A ‘new twist’ in states’ same-sex marriage debates

A time or two, we’ve highlighted media coverage of what happens when religious liberty clashes with gay rights.

For example, the Wall Street Journal reported back in October:

As more states permit gay couples to marry or form civil unions, wedding professionals in at least six states have run headlong into state antidiscrimination laws after refusing for religious reasons to bake cakes, arrange flowers or perform other services for same-sex couples.

Now comes Reuters with what its headline characterizes as a “new twist” in the same-sex marriage debates.

The top of that wire story:

(Reuters) – Oregon voters will likely face two questions about gay marriage when they go to the ballot this year: whether to become the 18th state to let same-sex couples wed, and whether the state should be the first to allow florists, cake makers and others to refuse to participate in these weddings on religious grounds.

The ballot initiatives set up what some activists have said is the next frontier in the marriage debate — as more states move to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples, those who object on religious grounds want a legal right to opt out.

“This is not a sideshow issue,” said James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union, referring to the Oregon ballot initiative and the coming debate over religious exemption. “This is going to be the issue that we fight about for the next ten years, at least, in the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights movement.”

The next frontier in the marriage debates? Perhaps.

A new twist? Maybe, although two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a story for Christianity Today with this headline:

Should the Marriage Battleground Shift to Religious Freedom?

But back to the Reuters story: What to make of the journalism?

Here’s my take: It’s a straightforward piece that presents the facts and quotes folks on both sides. (It’s written in inverted-pyramid style, but I don’t think it falls into the “suitcase lead” trap, to borrow a phrase I came across on Poynter.org this week.)

Among Reuters’ sources, we hear from an advocate for the proposed religious exemption:

Teresa Harke, whose group Friends of Religious Freedom proposed Oregon’s religious exemption referendum, said that as the marriage debate continues, guarantees are needed to ensure those on both sides of the issue are treated fairly.

“We wanted to make sure that, no matter which way marriage is defined in Oregon, that folks who hold a view based on their faith that marriage is between one man and one woman are not going to be discriminated against or be silenced for declining to participate in same-sex weddings,” she said.

And later, there’s this back and forth:

“They want a special privilege and a special license to discriminate against gay people in business,” said Esseks. He called religious exemptions a “Plan B” strategy to “carve out a space where gay people’s equality does not affect the way these other folks live their daily lives.”

But Jordan Lorence, a lawyer with the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, who represents Elane Photography, said the First Amendment protects the right of people not to endorse messages with which they disagree.

“The right of conscience protects all Americans,” he said.

It seems like a fair, important news story.

Nice job, Reuters.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • HowardRichards

    It seems to me that the real issue is in saying that the cake, flowers, whatever are for a wedding. If I were a baker or florist, I think I would sell cakes or flowers but with no “toppers” and with no mention of “wedding” or “marriage”; that would seem to eliminate the moral problem.

    An analogous situation might be a baker who makes sandwich buns. He makes one kind of bun for a kosher beef sandwich, another for a kosher turkey sandwich, and a third for a kosher cheese sandwich. Then the pork industry gets a judge to rule that pork is also kosher — something with which the baker disagrees. Sure enough, someone comes into his bakery demanding buns for a kosher pork sandwich. The baker cannot in good conscience provide them, because he knows that there is no such thing as a kosher pork sandwich. So he stops naming the buns after the kind of sandwiches they might be used on and instead calls them onion buns, sourdough buns, whatever. The baker might still disapprove of pork sandwiches, but he is not endorsing them in any way. (Of course, bread is more necessary for a sandwich than flowers or cake for a wedding, but I really think this solves the problem.)

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      What’s your point concerning the journalism?

  • Gene Dooley

    You don’t go to Jaguar for an off-road vehicle, you don’t go to a proctologist for dental work and you don’t go to a homophobic bigot for a same-sex wedding cake. There are plenty of heterosexual wedding cake requests to float a bigot’s bakery business. The law gives the baker the right to be a hinderance to our progressive society. Fortunately, someday the baker will die and have been replaced by a person that understands and promotes equality, therefore contributing to the betterment of everyone on this planet.

  • FW Ken

    Interesting article. I liked the balance of viewpoints, and placing the events in Oregon in the national context. It would have been interesting to know some of the thinking behind putting same-sex marriage on the ballot. Legalization of ssm had mainly come through the courts and legislature, and a negative vote will certainly go to court anyway.

  • Derek Johnson

    So, any of this, as anyone saying that a gay wedding, while in some sense maybe just another wedding, is in and of itself a political/social rally because of its celebration of a relationship between two people of the same sex, and you can’t be forced into backing a political/social protest you disagree with?

  • John Pack Lambert

    Considering how hard hitting journalists were against CVS for dropping cigarettes and not other unhealthy things, the failure of these journalists to grill the ACLU on why it does not protect people’s freedom of speech when they are photographers is a total failure of any consistency in journalism.