Conservatives promote House bill to protect opponents of gay marriage

WASHINGTON — Conservatives are rallying around a House bill designed to protect religious people who advocate for traditional marriage — … Continued

WASHINGTON — Conservatives are rallying around a House bill designed to protect religious people who advocate for traditional marriage — a belief, they say, that is held in increasing contempt.

But supporters of same-sex marriage say the bill actually protects the discriminators — individuals and nonprofits that would deny gay people benefits or services simply because they are married to a same-sex partner.

More than 60 House members — mostly (but not all) Republican — have signed on to the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which was introduced Sept. 19 by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, who came to Congress in 2010 on a wave of support from the conservative Tea Party.

The bill signifies a shift in strategy for gay marriage opponents: Increasingly resigned to the reality that they’re unlikely to stop gay marriage, they’re now trying to blunt its impact by carving out explicit protections for dissenters.

“This bill affirms that a person’s religious belief in the importance of natural marriage should be treated with tolerance and respect by the federal government,” said David Christensen, vice president for government affairs at the Family Research Council, which is promoting the bill.

Labrador crafted the measure in the wake of June’s Supreme Court decision that struck down most of the Defense of Marriage Act, which had prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions. But the bill was also prompted by Internal Revenue Service scrutiny of the tax-exempt status of conservative groups — a controversy that came to a head shortly before the DOMA decision.

Under Labrador’s bill, no institution could lose its federal tax-exempt status because it promotes traditional marriage. Neither could the federal government deny a grant, contract or employment to a person or institution based on their belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

“Congress needs to make clear that the federal government cannot punish people for their religious belief,” said Christensen, referring to the IRS controversy.

The National Organization for Marriage, Focus on the Family, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Concerned Women for America and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are also supporting Labrador’s bill.

They worry that people who act on their traditional, religious convictions about marriage are paying a price in the media and in state courts.

A description of the bill drawn up by the bishops refers to a “growing number of reports of individuals and organizations holding such beliefs being targeted for discrimination by state governments.” It referred to an August ruling by the New Mexico Supreme Court that said a Christian photographer broke a state anti-discrimination law by refusing to photograph a gay wedding.

If gay marriage opponents think the photographer is the victim in this case, they’ve got it backward, say gay marriage proponents. Labrador’s bill, they continue, would officially sanction discrimination against gay people.

“It automatically goes after a specific community of people and gives free license to say, ‘It’s OK to discriminate against this group,’” said Ross Murray, director of news and faith initiatives at GLAAD, a leading gay rights organization.

“I have a real hard time as a Christian fathoming why someone as a Christian would want to actively hurt another person, wanting to block them from receiving goods and services, want to block them from purchasing goods and services like everyone else does,” Murray continued.

The gay rights group Freedom to Marry called the bill “dangerous,” saying a federal employee could refuse to process the tax returns of a legally married gay couple, for example, or employers could deny a gay employee benefits under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

“This sweeping Trojan Horse proposal would swallow civil rights laws and subvert constitutional protections, and is a dangerous ‘solution’ to a non-problem,” said Freedom to Marry’s Evan Wolfson.

The bill, which has been referred to two House committees, is unlikely to be fast-tracked through the House, and would most likely face a high hurdle in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

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  • Gabarus`

    If you run a public business, you must serve the entire public.

    If you accept taxpayer funding to provide a service, you must provide that service to all taxpayers.

    Neither of these are difficult concepts to grasp.

  • jay2drummer

    No, you don’t have to serve the entire public. For instance, you don’t have to serve people who don’t have money. You can serve people not dressed properly. You can serve specific ages. What all these have in common, of course, is that they apply equally to all potential customers. The price is the price (though in some cases there is a degree of haggling). The dress code for me is the dress code for you is the dress code for that random tourist from wherever. And of course, all people reach age markers at the same rate (give or take a day or 2 for leap years).

  • itsthedax

    Christians,

    You are entitled to your religion. Enjoy it with the best wishes of all of us.

    You are not a persecuted minority. No christian in this country has ever been denied the right to his/her religion. You have never been prevented from practicing your religion in this country. In the name of persecuted people everywhere – Myanmar, Darfur and Tibet come to mind – please stop pretending that your are being victimized. In fact, the tax exempt status of your religious institutions puts you in a favored position in this society.

    Your religion is not mandatory. If you have religious freedom, then so does everybody else. This means that you are not entitled to have your religious beliefs taught in public school classrooms – even disguised as “science”. And, you are not entitled to have the government legitimize your religion over all others, by declaring it scientifically sound. By the way, if you want the Book of Genesis taught in public schools, please have the integrity to say so without trying to hide it under “Intelligent Design”.

    Your religion is not the legal basis of this country, and is not to be used as a basis for establishing our laws. Freedom of religion means that everyone else is free not to labor under your religious practices, although you are unquestionably entitled to do so, yourselves. The fact that people disagree with you on matters of morality and faith does not mean that you are being persecuted. It just means that your opinions do not trump their rights. The fact that the government cannot discriminate against people that you disapprove of does not mean that you are being oppressed. It just means that you are equal to everybody else.