Nobody is forcing churches to marry gay couples.
Repeat after me: same-sex marriage does not threaten religious liberty.
Once more: marriage equality has not and will not force churches and clergy members to marry same-sex couples.
For most of you, I’m probably stating the obvious. But recent PR stunts from the religious right show that no matter how crystal-clear we think this point is, it’s one that supporters of LGBT civil rights will have to keep hammering home over and over again.
In the new marriage equality state of North Carolina, for example, opponents of same-sex marriage are hopping mad over a memorandum from state officials informing magistrates that they cannot refuse to perform marriages for same-sex couples.
Magistrates are public officials, nominated by county clerks of court, whose civic responsibilities include performing civil marriages. They are paid by the people of North Carolina, to serve the people of North Carolina. Yet some magistrates in the Tar Heel State want to serve only some North Carolinians, saying that they will not perform civil marriages for same-sex couples because doing so would violate their religious beliefs.
This refusal isn’t just repugnant, it’s also illegal. The state told magistrates earlier this month that turning away same-sex couples is a violation of their oaths of office, and that public officials who do so face suspension or dismissal from their state jobs.
In response, the state’s Republican senate majority leader plans to introduce a bill that would create a special right for anti-gay state officials to opt out of performing civil same-sex marriages. It would even exempt registrars of deeds — whose offices issue marriage licenses — from serving same-sex couples. “Complying with the new marriage law imposed by the courts should not require our state employees to compromise their core religious beliefs and First Amendment rights in order to protect their livelihoods,” Senator Phil Berger said.
See how that works? Current law in North Carolina requires public servants to treat all members of the public equally. But now that that guarantee of equal treatment extends to marriage, Berger wants to change the rules to accommodate religion-based bigotry. If his proposal passes, homophobic public officials would be able to bring their private religious beliefs into their publicly funded offices — at the expense of LGBT people’s basic rights.
Now we turn to Idaho, where the owners of the Hitching Post, a wedding chapel in Coeur d’Alene, are suing the city because they claim they’re being forced to either perform same-sex wedding ceremonies or face fines and jail time for violating the local non-discrimination ordinance. Prominent national homophobes from Tony Perkins and Brian Brown to Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum have rushed to the barricades to defend the business, breathlessly decrying this alleged attack on religious freedom by those evil, radical homosexuals.
The story has received considerable attention in fundraising emails, conservative blogs, and the airwaves on Fox News — hardly surprising, given the fact that it reinforces the religious right’s persecution complex and plays right into their “LGBT rights come at the expense of religious freedom” narrative.
There’s only one problem: the entire thing is a lie cooked up by the religious right. The city never threatened the Hitching Post’s owners with fines, jail time, or any other retributive measures. Furthermore, when marriage equality arrived in Idaho earlier this month, the owners restructured the business as a religious organization that only offered religious wedding services, and it now falls under the religious exemption in Coeur d’Alene’s non-discrimination ordinance — a fact that city officials, which have no plans to go after the business, freely acknowledge.
The stories out of North Carolina and Idaho are certainly different, but they both point to the troubling pattern of distortion and deception practiced by opponents of LGBT equality. In reality, the freedom to marry is perfectly compatible with the freedom of religion. But this delicate balance can only work if we fight back against their lies, and resist their efforts to create special rights and privileges for religion-based anti-LGBT discrimination.