June 24, 2018
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Marriage for all fits body of law

By Mary Bonauto, Special to the BDN

There is no conflict between every person’s right to practice his or her religion and a proposed law to allow committed same-sex couples to marry. In fact, the proposal on the November ballot specifically protects the rights of clergy and churches to maintain their religious traditions regarding marriage.

It is disappointing that Carroll Conley Jr. distorts long-established legal realities about freedom, liberty and marriage to conjure up fears in his Feb. 23 OpEd, “Freedom, liberty and marriage.”

The proposed law allowing same-sex couples to marry protects the unique role religion and clergy often play in marriage. Clergy would not have to perform any wedding to which they object, or host such a wedding on their premises, or lose any tax exemption for following their beliefs.

And the proposed law will make no changes to current anti-discrimination laws for those selling goods and services.

Our civil society has never given permission to individuals, unaffiliated with a religious institution, to ignore the same rules that everyone else must follow. Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia rejects the view that people can “become a law unto” themselves based on their religious views.

Our state laws expect that commercial businesses will welcome all comers regardless of the business owner’s religious view of any particular customer.

If some “florists and organists” object to working with same-sex couples, the marriage law doesn’t change anything for them. Marriage law or no marriage law, they may not discriminate based on sexual orientation when selling their services.

The absence of lawsuits in other states that allow marriage for same-sex couples is clear evidence that most wedding-related businesses welcome new customers. Anti-discrimination laws are in place for important reasons. They ensure that people are treated fairly as they go about their daily lives, and they help to prevent the religious and ethnic schisms that divided people in the past.

A Protestant baker cannot refuse to bake a cake for a Catholic wedding. That’s the law today. Likewise a government clerk cannot deny a marriage license to a couple of a different faith or ethnicity because that relationship might somehow conflict with their personal, religious views.

Existing law works: All citizens have a right to trust that public servants will serve everyone.

Faith-based social service organizations also obligate themselves to comply with general laws when they seek and receive government contracts to provide services in exchange for public dollars. When a religious organization accepts taxpayer money, it must not use those resources to facilitate discrimination.

This is why some Catholic Charities “adoption agencies and foster care providers” in Massachusetts and Illinois chose to withdraw from providing government-financed services. Quite simply, they did not want to provide services in a nondiscriminatory manner. They were not forced out of business by the government or by “marriage.”

Mr. Conley references a New Jersey “campground association” without giving full information. It received a special property tax benefit because it promised to make its land available to everyone. It lost that benefit when it failed to do so. How can it be wrong to revoke a benefit when the benefit recipient breaks its promises?

Religions, clergy and individuals are already free to say what they want based on their beliefs. Opinions about government licensing of marriage for same-sex couples are a person’s own business.

And despite exaggerated claims that suggest otherwise, Maine law already requires that all residents be treated equally by government employees, businesses, employers, landlords and organizations that receive government money to do government work.

Marriage for same-sex couples and religious liberty can and do co-exist.

Perhaps Mr. Conley’s real objection is that he doesn’t like speech that counters his own. Or perhaps he doesn’t have a good answer to why he opposes allowing same-sex couples to marry or how such marriages would affect his own marriage. Instead, he obscures the question at hand.

But as our Founding Fathers planned, in America we answer speech with more speech, regardless of hurt feelings.

Same-sex couples who wish to join in marriage are not looking to pick fights. Instead, they wish for a day to affirm and celebrate their commitment to one another with family and friends, a new shared life with each other over the long haul, and equal rights from their government.

Mary L. Bonauto, an attorney with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, lives in Portland.

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