New “religious freedom” bill in Georgia has nothing to do with religion

Lawmakers in Georgia will soon consider a new bill that would let businesses and non-profits adopt straights-only policies for services relating to any “matrimonial ceremony.” From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

House Bill 756 would allow business owners to cite religious beliefs in refusing goods or services for a “matrimonial ceremony” — a blunt assessment of conservatives’ outrage after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June state prohibitions on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.

Like “religious freedom” bills that have come before it, HB 756 carves out areas of public activity in which the government must cede its regulatory authority to the discriminatory whims of private citizens. Unlike most of these earlier bills, however, HB 756 is narrowly tailored to only carve out such an exception for one specific type of public activity: selling goods and services relating to marriage ceremonies.

Church and State, via Shutterstock

Church and State, via Shutterstock

In most cases, crafting a bill with a narrower focus than the broader policy that inspired it is seen as a nod to the authors’ interest in conciliation or compromise. This isn’t one of those cases. Religious freedom bills that just so happen to allow businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples at least carry the stated purpose of protecting, well, religious freedom. Anti-gay florists, bakers and photographers’ right to discriminate against same-sex couples is clearly the motivating factor behind these bills, but at least they theoretically apply to other situations in which religious citizens’ interests have “reasonable” conflicts with secular government regulations.

Broad legislation like the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act” currently pending in the House may be cruel and draconian and antithetical to the First Amendment’s establishment of the boundaries between Church and State, but that kind of legislation is value-neutral in the same way that voter ID laws are race-neutral.

By limiting its reach to “matrimonial ceremonies,” HB 756 drops this pretense. The bill doesn’t claim to protect religious freedom in any sort of broad sense. It’s just about giving conservative Christians a special right to give the finger to same-sex couples.

As the Journal-Constitution reports, Georgia Republicans have been slow to rally behind the measure.

(h/t Towleroad)


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • AlanInSF

    All State Farm policy holders should know that State Farm is a highest level executive leader and financial sponsor of ALEC.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Say what? Sure it was a a question of legality, because two men made a contract exchanging some chattel. That does not make it a state institution. The church stepped in when it decided it should help plan how the wealth was distributed by it’s followers.

  • Shawn Sheehan

    Also, marriage is and always has been a state institution, were talking hundreds if not thousands of years. That’s why you have to visit the courthouse so it’s valid.

  • Shawn Sheehan

    So I assume these people will have no issue with Muslims refusing Jews and Christians?

  • SkippyFlipjack

    And for anyone here who’s been married — did you get all warm and fuzzy feelings that the person who baked the cake, unless they were a friend, was taking part in the ceremony and bathing in the joy of your loving union? Or, more likely, did you just look at the cake and think “Cool, that guy did a pretty good job on the cake.”

    This whole no-gay-cake thing reflects poorly on the cake-bakers in so many ways.

  • Badgerite

    Right on the money. This isn’t about wedding cakes. And in my opinion, it is a futile attempt on their part to turn back the clock. I don’t think it will work regardless of what legal gimmick
    (argle-bargle) they come up with to try to do this.

  • ComradeRutherford

    Conservatives sure do hate America.

  • Wasn’t it that good “Christian” woman Melissa Klein who baked a cake for a divorce party?

  • As far as denying benefits, let’s hope the Little Sisters of the Poor continue to get shot down in court. That will be a nice first step in reining in some of these “religious freedom” claims.

  • I’ve never been to a wedding where cake was served as part of the ceremony. Oh, sure, often there’s cake at these parties afterwards, because most decent-minded and open-hearted folks can at least bring themselves to celebrate a marriage which has just been solemnized. And at what line does a ‘big party’ end and a ‘wedding reception’ begin — and why is the latter offensive but the former not?

    We know these laws aren’t about cakes or flowers or even reception halls. It’s also about hotels and B&Bs turning away gay and lesbian couples who just want a nice vacation. And about bigoted business owners who will try to find a way to extend the provisions of this law to deny job benefits to families headed by gay and lesbian couples. As in, “If not for this ceremony I wish not to recognize because Gawd sez it’s EEEEBIL, I would not have to include Dave’s “husband” on his health insurance, so it’s a violation of my religious beliefs to have to do so. If I give health insurance, I’m participating. Also, to be clear, I’m not a bigot and I don’t hate gay people. Really! Stop laughing.”

    As Jon has pointed out many times, this isn’t about religious freedom of any kind, else all those marriages being solemnized by same-sex couples dating back to the 1970s would have been granted legal protections. And in 1990, Antonin Scalia and a majority of SCOTUS justices would not have said it was totally reasonable for the federal government to ban the use of peyote in Native American religious ceremonies due to compelling state interests — but not to ban the use of alcohol in Christian religious ceremonies where minors are allowed to partake.

    It’s about privilege. Specifically, the privileges of fundamentalist Christians to make everybody else live according to their interpretation of an iron-age religion.

  • Or refuses to serve mixed-race couples… since, y’know, fundamentalist Christians less than half a century ago said it was a deeply held belief of theirs that races shouldn’t be allowed to ‘mix.’

  • goulo

    Or that refuses to serve mixed-religion couples. Or non-Catholic couples.

  • Sally

    ALEC has these bills in the works all over the country. They are usually struck down by the states themselves, but I’d bet the Supremes are going to have to take look eventually. ALEC is pure evil for the rights of people in this nation.

  • MoonDragon

    Only selected, approved cults derived from a literal reading of transcriptions written centuries after the fact of a selected subset of bronze age myths.

  • keirmeister

    If I have a strong moral belief (but not religious) do I also get special allowances to ignore generally-applicable laws? How does one prove religious belief and devotion as opposed to simple bigotry? Does this count for cults?

  • MoonDragon

    I’m waiting for these people to pass a bill allowing devout Catholic businesses to refuse service to couples where at least one is a divorced person.

  • nicho

    They will, however, bake a cake for Billy Bob to celebrate his release from jail for his meth lab and spousal abuse conviction.

  • Hue-Man

    “selling goods and services relating to marriage ceremonies”

    I would like someone to explain where “relating” starts and ends. Flower and cakes somehow are considered to be “relating”. What about rented tuxes? The company that supplies the electricity to the wedding venue? The roads the happy couple drive on?

    I’ve never understood the cake and flowers nonsense. Fire and sulfur because I turned eggs, flour, butter, etc. into a cake? Doesn’t compute.

  • nicho

    Well, they’re in good company. There’s a Muslim cleric in Indonesia who was arrested for funding terrorist training camps. He’s claiming that the charges should be dropped because funding terror is an act of worship. He’s claiming “religious freedom.” Birds of a feather – – and all that.

  • 2karmanot

    The South shall fall again—–the sooner the better!

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