Faith Groups Seek Exemptions After Supreme Court’s Gay Ruling

Jennifer Marshall, left, and Summer Ingram, right, demonstrated outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Friday. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Jennifer Marshall, left, and Summer Ingram, right, demonstrated outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Friday. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Within hours of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, an array of conservatives including the governors of Texas and Louisiana and religious groups called for stronger legal protections for those who want to avoid any involvement in same-sex marriage, like catering a gay wedding or providing school housing to gay couples, based on religious beliefs.

They demanded establishing clear religious exemptions from discrimination laws, tax penalties or other government regulations for individuals, businesses and religious-affiliated institutions wishing to avoid endorsing such marriages.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, issued a directive to state agencies saying that employees should not be penalized for refusing to act in violation of their beliefs. “No Texan is required by the Supreme Court’s decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage,” he said in a statement.

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, a Republican candidate for president, warned that the court decision “will pave the way for an all-out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree.”

Jim Daly, the president of Focus on the Family, a prominent conservative Christian group based in Colorado Springs, said he was worried that Christians would be subjected to “prejudice and persecution” if they stood against same-sex marriage. He suggested that a variety of issues were likely to be litigated, including whether the ruling would force Christian universities to house same-sex couples in dorms for married students and whether cake makers and florists would have to work same-sex weddings.

“To me it’s a mind-boggling maze of treacherous future court cases,” Mr. Daly said.

Justices on both sides of the issue seemed to anticipate the battles ahead and address them.

In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy stressed that individuals were free to defend traditional beliefs about marriage, but he played down any potential conflicts, writing, “The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.”

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., dissenting, wrote, “Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage — when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples.”

“There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court,” he wrote, adding, “Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”

In a telephone news conference on Friday, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, the chairman of the religious liberty committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion made “a nod in the direction of religious liberty, but not enough of one.”

“Of course we retain the right to think what we want and say what we want and preach what we want about marriage,” he said.

“But the free exercise of religion means we have the right,” he continued, “to operate our ministries and to live our lives according to the truth about marriage without fear of being silenced or penalized or losing our tax exemption or losing our ability to serve the common good.”

“We serve millions of people every day, and we do it well, we do it lovingly and it would be a shame to see it jeopardized, to see it swallowed up in this decision,” he said.

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SOURCE: The New York Times
Erik Eckholm

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