Gay rights are colliding with religious rights in states like Arizona and Kansas as the national debate over gay marriage morphs into a fight over the dividing line between religious liberty and anti-gay discrimination.
More broadly, the fight mirrors the national debate on whether the religious rights of business owners also extend to their for-profit companies. Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether companies like Hobby Lobby must provide contraceptive services that their owners consider immoral.
The Arizona bill, which is headed to Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk for her signature, would allow people who object to same-sex marriage to use their religious beliefs as a defense in a discrimination lawsuit.
Similar legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma, according to The Associated Press, while other efforts are stalled in Idaho, Ohio and Kansas.
A bill in Kansas that passed the state House but appears dead in the state Senate was blasted by critics as a “gay segregation” bill, allowing businesses, hotels and restaurants to deny services or accommodations to gays and lesbians based on an employee’s religious convictions.
Proponents cite the case of a New Mexico photographer who was sued after she declined to take photos of a gay commitment ceremony. In asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review her case, photographer Elaine Huguenin said she could take a portrait of a gay couple but not participate in their same-sex ceremony because it would violate her religious beliefs.
In ruling against Huguenin’s case, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Bosson wrote that while Huguenin and her husband are “free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish,” the public accommodation of differing beliefs is “the price of citizenship.”
The Arizona bill would broaden the state’s definition of the exercise of religion to include both the practice and observance of religious beliefs. It would expand those protected under the state’s free-exercise-of-religion law to “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution or other business organization.”
The law was written by the conservative advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy and Alliance Defending Freedom, a prominent Arizona-based Christian law firm.
At the federal level, gay rights advocates for 20 years have failed to win passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.
“This is the next front in gay rights,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA. “These laws, by making this issue front and center, will encourage more efforts to pass a federal anti-discrimination law.”
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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Sarah Pulliam Bailey