Saturday, May 31, 2008

What's Keeping Me Awake Nights

Given the history of political tactics used by the right, the Rove-inspired attacks that lack reason or rationality, yet appeal to the less thoughtful (but still electorally-empowered) among us, I've been having some fitful nights concerned over how social conservatives will attack marriage equality. As I stated in an earlier post, the main arguments currently appear to be morality, tradition and the welfare of children. These are either not germane (Biblical morality has nothing to do with civil marriage) or are easily refuted (tradition changes all the time and extending civil equality to same-sex couples won't prevent opposite-sex couples from forming stable families).

For me, the major challenge lies in countering the coming attacks that will contend that the approval of same-sex marriage will result in proscriptions on religious freedom. The right wants the electorate to believe that gay couples will want to force churches to marry them.

Here's their logic: because homosexuality has been classified as a "suspect class" (at least under California law), similar to race, religion or national origin, the GLBT community can now expect similar protection against discrimination. A public accommodation, like a bus line or a lunch counter can't prohibit African-Americans or Jews or Pakistanis from using a public accommodation simply because they are black, Jewish or Pakistani. Now the same is true of homosexuality.

Here's how it's playing out. In New Jersey, a Methodist organization is suing the state because it feels pressured to hold same-sex commitment ceremonies in an open-air building that is used both as a church and other purposes, including weddings. The church owns the property, but receives tax benefits because of its non-profit status.

In Philadelphia and in Berkeley, the Boy Scouts have been forced to pay market rents for spaces they use, rather than the subsidized $1/year rents they had previously been charged. Why? Because the Boy Scouts don't allow gay folks as members and both those cities (rightly, the courts ruled) don't want to subsidize discrimination.

In these instances, however, the case seems clear: you can't have it both ways. If you want the tax benefits, you have to accept the laws of the community charging the tax. If you want to be a private organization and discriminate with impunity, fine. Just don't expect the rest of us to underwrite bigotry.

However clear that seems to me, it may be less so to Christianists.

The most challenging case, however, is one out of New Mexico. A lesbian couple planning a commitment ceremony tried to hire a photographer -- that refused to take pictures of the ceremony, citing religious grounds. The couple sued under the state's anti-discrimination law and the photographer was fined $6000.

To be honest, that one seemed a bit extreme to me. What happened to "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone"? Then I thought, what if the photographer was Muslim and refused to photograph a Jewish wedding? Would we feel the same?

So, the Christianists are coming. And they are going to be shouting that the queers are trying to strip them of their religious rights. (Never mind that the Catholics have been denying divorced people the right to marry in their churches for decades without incident or lawsuit.)

Just read. And this. Money quote: "Wilson said that California's faith-based organizations will likely be barred from sexual-orientation discrimination in the use of facilities that are offered to the public, and may increasingly find themselves the targets of discrimination-based civil-rights litigation."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Tom
I remember what happened to "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone."

Those were those signs I grew up seeing in many shops, and especially restaurants, which of course meant "if you are black, (or Chinese, or American Indian, etc.) don't even think you can come in here, except to wash dishes and clean the floor."

Which points to a sticky point for more libertarian type conservatives who consider themselves "socially liberal" but would defend the right to put that sign in the window of your business.

So I can see the shaky ground which might result in the New Mexico photography case, but I don't see that it translates to organizations with legal church status. They have plenty of leeway within the confines of their organization.

A possibly more interesting parallel are attempts to prevent discrimination in private clubs. Men's business clubs that exclude women, and Jews, etc.

There are plenty of examples of "private clubs / membership clubs" being used to circumvent various laws and regulations.

I'm rambling... oh well.