What could religious exemptions include in NY’s marriage fight?

UPDATE from Joe @ 7:46 PM: Reported a short time ago at the State of Politics blog:

That makes it a virtual certainty that same-sex marriage will not be voted on tonight or in the wee hours of Thursday. A Senate official said no agreement has been reached on an amendment for religious exemptions in the bill, but language has been proposed.

This, of course, could change. Stay tuned.
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Talk of “religious protections” has become central in the debate around marriage equality in New York. It’s clear that this is about spelling out that you can’t force churches to perform same-sex marriages. Beyond that, however, it’s unclear for a lot of people what this would cover. Susan Brooks, a professor at Chicago Theological Seminary lays it out, and explains a bit more what this means at The Washington Post’s On Faith blog:

The reach of these religious protections is wide-ranging -from whether Catholic adoption agencies may reject same-sex couples, to the right of religious caterers to refuse services for gay weddings. In New York State’s Marriage Equality Act, should there be exemptions for religion? What should happen when equal rights for gay citizens and the right to religious free exercise clash?

A religious exemption for caterers? Really? Doesn’t this expose the fundamental contradiction between “religious exemptions” and equal civil rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people? If you include catering, a completely contractual and voluntary arrangement to provide food services, in a “religious exemption” clause, you are just catering to bigotry instead…

…In the case of the Catholic Church and adoption, however, there can be no “religious exemption” if the Catholic charities that provide adoption services accept federal funds. As I have written before in “Caesar’s money, Caesar’s rules,” “it would be a big mistake to ‘exempt’ religious organizations that receive government funding and allow them to discriminate against some Americans because of their religious beliefs. Just stop giving taxpayer dollars to religious organizations for them to distribute. That will solve the problem. If we keep church and state separate, these issues do not arise.” There should be no “religious exemption” when an organization is receiving federal funds.


Born and raised in Maine, Nick Seaver moved to DC to study political communication in 2003. He began writing extensively on LGBT rights during the first ballot initiative in Maine that overturned marriage equality. He writes about a variety of issues, ranging from marriage to issues facing LGBT youth. Follow him on Twitter at @NDSeaver.

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