When the New York legislature voted to legalize same-sex marriage last month, there were a handful of representatives who formerly opposed gay marriage but who switched their vote to legalize it. To a man, they justified their decision on the basis of the “religious exemptions” that would supposedly protect religious organizations from having to violate their religious beliefs.
Anyone paying attention knows that such exemptions are flimsy and probably won’t stand the scrutiny of the courts. But even more troubling is the fact that the exemptions do not cover religious individuals, but only religious organizations. This difficulty is not theoretical but has already come to a head in Vermont (another state where gay marriages are legal).
Recently, a devout Roman Catholic couple who own an Inn in Vermont declined to host a wedding reception for a lesbian couple (read about it here). The owners, Jim and Mary O’Reilly, issued a statement saying that they believe in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman. They explain:
“We have never refused rooms or dining or employment to gays or lesbians. Many of our guests have been same-sex couples. We welcome and treat all people with respect and dignity. We do not however, feel that we can offer our personal services wholeheartedly to celebrate the marriage between same-sex couples because it goes against everything that we as Catholics believe in.”
After the O’Reilly’s refused to host the reception, the lesbian couple teamed up with the ACLU to sue the O’Reilly’s for violating Vermont’s law regarding public accommodation. Even though the O’Reilly’s regularly accommodate gays and lesbians, their religious convictions prevent them from hosting an event that would celebrate what their faith prohibits. As a result, this lesbian couple and the ACLU intend to punish the O’Reilly’s for their faithfulness to their religious beliefs.
Legal gay marriage is certain to provoke many more such challenges to religious liberty, and there will be no religious exemption for small business owners like the O’Reilly’s. Get ready because this is only the beginning.