Posts Tagged ‘religious exemption’

2009: A Year of Blogging Obsessively (300 Posts and Counting)

December 31st, 2009 No comments

Well, I have a few minutes before family and friends return to sweep me away in a haze of New Year’s Eve partying. (Of course, with young children “a haze of partying” ends well before midnight. We can do a faux countdown with them.)

To all of the readers — regular and occasional — who have supported this blog over the past year: THANK YOU! And let me wish you all a Happy New Year several hours early (from my EST perspective, of course). When I began this blog almost a year ago (Jan. 6, 2009), I promised myself I’d give it one year and then decide whether it was something I wanted to continue. I’d expected it would be fun and engaging, and it has been. What I didn’t expect was how…obsessive it would become. This marks post 301! And it’s not like I don’t have anything else to do: a full-time teaching and writing job; an administrative position; and a busy family life. I haven’t even taken a week off.

So I’m still striving to find the right balance for the blog, and will be thinking about these issues in the upcoming days and weeks in my life. And I AM going to take next week off, at least mostly. While I’m doing that, I would welcome (as always) your thoughts on individual posts, yes, but also on the blog. What can I do to make it more interesting and engaging? Do you like the “all topics” approach? Should I add some regular or recurring features? Other ideas?

Apparently, the old year can’t end without some kind of list. And, hubristically, I’m going to list posts from this very blog — in part because some readers have “just come in,” and catching up is an investment most people haven’t the time or inclination to make. I wouldn’t either. But here are few, listed by category, that I think you might enjoy: Either because I’ve gotten good response to them, or because I just think they’re better than most of the others. So enjoy — or don’t!

Let’s start with the lighter stuff. Here are my favorites among the pieces that were mostly intended to be amusing (with or without a more serious point):

Ten Items or Fewer

The Mesh of the Edmund Fitzgerald (or, Substitutiary Locomotion)

Floating Like a (Meta)Butterfly

How Could He Say That?

This angry post generated many links and was commented on extensively throughout the net. I’d like to think (delusionally) that it played some small part in the Obama Administration’s decision to be less incendiary in subsequent briefs:

DOMA Defense? It’s Worse than You Think

And then:

DOJ Files Reply Brief (which, I think, showed that pressure works)

I was honored to be a guest-blogger on Michael Ginsborg’s invaluable site, Prop 8 and the Right to Marry, where I posted a four-part series on the issue of religious exemptions to recognizing same-sex marriages.  It also generated a post by Dale Carpenter (on the Volokh Conspiracy) analyzing my core proposal. The proposal generated well over 100 comments:

No Gay Couples Allowed

(You can also jump to my series on Michael’s site from this post.)

A great joy to me was the engagement by Andrew Sullivan over at the Atlantic’s Daily Dish, one of the most engaging and influential blogs out there. We had an especially animated exchange on the issue of late-term abortion. I found, to my pleasant surprise, that I’m still capable of changing my views in response to thoughtful consideration of an issue.

Empathy for Entities will allow you to walk back through the exchange. (Or just choose the “abortion” category from the left side of the home page.)

Finally, there were the posts that used episodes from my life to illuminate some larger point. Among those, these three were my favorites:

The Woozy Blogger (Questions the Entire Medical Profession)

Forms Over Substance

Three Stories About Swimming

Well, they’re at the door. Happy New Year to all!!

John Culhane

Responding to Comments on “Marriage Equality” Series — and a Big Thanks to Michael Ginsborg

August 7th, 2009 1 comment

For most of the week just gone by, I’ve been guest-blogging on the issue of religious accommodations to marriage equality and to other protections that same-sex couples enjoy under state anti-discrimination law. The blogs have appeared on one of my favorite, because most informative, sites: Proposition 8 and the Right to Marry. It’s hosted by Michael Ginsborg, a San Francisco-based law librarian who somehow keeps abreast of every significant legal development on marriage equality and related legal issues, while holding down a full-time job. Thanks again to Michael for this invitation. It seems he enjoyed the outcome as much as I did.  (You can find the posts on that site, or here on wordinedgewise; just scroll back through the immediately preceding four posts, and you can jump to the full text  after a couple of introductory paragraphs.)

As much as I enjoyed doing the series, I had no idea that it would engender such a wealth of response. Dale Carpenter, over at The Volokh Conspiracy, linked to the series, and then extensively analyzed and commented on my central proposal. (Less positively, the Alliance Defense Fund also noted the series.)  And I found myself swamped by comments: Part III of the series, which contains my core proposal, garnered almost 200 comments between Volokh and Prop 8 and the Right to Marry. In all, there have been almost 300 comments.

Obviously, I have neither the time nor the desire to respond to all of these individually. Nor is doing so necessary — while many are insightful, some are so far outside bounds of civilized discourse that they shouldn’t be dignified. And when there are a great number of comments, there’s some back-and-forthing that strays far from the initial proposal. Also, the torrent of comments over at Volokh responded to both me and to Carpenter’s alternative suggestion; I’ll leave him to defend his own ideas. Yet there are many some insightful points that I do want to address (mostly without specific reference to the commenter). I’ll also reiterate just enough of the points made in my posts to provide needed context.

On my idea that businesses opposing same-sex marriages shouldn’t be permitted to deny normal commercial services to these couples — but should have a First Amendment right to announce their religious views in opposition — and on Carpenter’s alternative suggestion that such businesses be allowed to refuse service only if they display such a sign, this brisk comment was incisive: “I think posting a sign of either kind is like trying to avoid lightning by holding up a steel pole.”  Other less pithy commenters were along the same line, with one noting that my idea had already failed in the New Mexico case where a photographer refused to shoot a same-sex commitment ceremony, and then was sued. Another suggested that those advertising that they’d prefer not to deal with same-sex couples might not avoid the wrath of gay-rights organizations. Might it be better to fly under the radar?

Maybe. It’s hard to know, as my proposal moves in uncharted waters. Perhaps I’m seized by Pollyanna palsy, thinking that if same-sex couples know about a particular business’s objections in advance, they won’t press the issue, even if I believe they should have the right to. I don’t know the details of the New Mexico case (but plan to look into them), but perhaps the couple’s surprise at the response set off a reaction that led to litigation. My guess is that very few wedding-related businesses will care enough to advertise their opposition; those that do might expect fewer straight couples, as well, if the locality is progressive.

On a broader front, there are those who generally oppose laws that prohibit private businesses from discriminating. Among the most thoughtful of these was this commenter:

As much as I support gay marriage in an official sense (I don’t think the government should refuse to issue marriage certificates to gay couples), I’ve always been skeptical of anti-descrimination laws regarding private business. Individuals are allowed to be racists, sexist, anti-gay, etc, so why shouldn’t business be allowed to do so? It’s a stupid business decision to refuse to serve people illogical reasons like race or sexual orientation, but private businesses should be allowed to make stupid decisions.

Our thinking about private anti-discrimnation laws has been tainted by the (post) Jim Crow experience in the South. That was a special case where government entities hostile to the rule of law effectuated public policy through private actors on a wink and nod basis (If you didn’t discriminate you would be punished). The fact that there was a special case that required an exception to the general rule that private actors can be bigots, is a poor reason to change the general rule.

This is a respectable argument — with which I strongly disagree — but it’s not my fight here. In fact, we do extend such anti-discrimination protection to all kinds of  classes beyond race, including sex, religion, national origin, disability, and so on. I’m therefore quite skeptical of any laws that would effectively single out same-sex couples for treatment that we’ve collectively decided isn’t fair to impose on other groups. And, as I mentioned in Part II, I’ll bet that many of those calling for these exemptions aren’t sincere in saying they’d like to limit them to the marriage context. (Some of the commenters picked up on that possibility, with some good examples, too. One noted that protections for religions aren’t needed here any more than in the case of divorce, where a particular church — say, the Catholic Church, won’t recognize a legal divorce. No one thinks they should have to, and no one thinks religions need to marry same-sex couples, either. So, where the exemption is limited to this context, it’s not necessary and may be seen as a form of bigotry.)

During a lively exchange of comments to the first post over at Prop 8 and the Right to Marry, readers bruited about a reverse issue: Why focus on religious exemptions of those who oppose same-sex marriages in states where they are allowed and not on the religious rights of those who can’t marry in other places? I suppose that’s another way of saying that religious law should either be subordinated to civil law law, or not. Why does religion have the trump only when it cuts against equality? The short answer is that the civil law governs and sets the terms under which exemptions may (or may not) be granted; religion doesn’t come first. But that answer doesn’t really get at something deeper about freedom of religion and how it can be deployed to political advantage. I’d be interested in readers’ thoughts on this issue.

With the number of comments that poured forth, I could continue this for many more paragraphs. But I’ll content myself with a few final thoughts. Part IV, where I discussed discrimination by religiously affiliated businesses, drew a very negative comment that was to an extent deserved. In those cases, my view is evolving, and I didn’t set forth the kind of clear proposal I’d offered for the case of private business. Yet many of the toughest cases will be in this shadowy area where religious entities enter the public, and sometimes, commercial arena. As my detractor said:

Florists… it’s not about freakin’ florists. It’s about access to, and participation in, the countless faith-based and faith-affiliated service agencies that exist in this country and which receive hundreds of millions of dollars in public contracts to provide social services.

As I suggested in the post, for the most part I disfavor legal exemptions in these cases as much as in the case of “freakin’ florists.” Again, if religiously affiliated service agencies are involved in commerce, they need to play by those rules. Otherwise, no public contracts, no tax exemptions, and perhaps even liability under prevailing state laws. I suggested adoption services as a place to make an exception (for mostly practical reasons), as well as certain activities conducted with a purely religious purpose — not, for example, housing for married students in a college affiliated with a religious denomination. I’ll confess that line-drawing in these cases is tough, and my sympathies are almost always with the same-sex couple. But I might be persuaded in specific, well-defined cases to make clear exceptions, as I stated.

Let me close with one final quote from another commentator:

“Doesn’t this kind of discrimination, justifiable or not, make you sick?”


“I’m Convinced that Lesbians Can Be Made”

June 29th, 2009 1 comment

Late last week, Delaware concluded a decade-long struggle, finally enacting the most basic anti-discrimination protection for gays and lesbians (but not the transgendered). The Governor is expected to sign the measure soon, thereby making Joe Biden’s home state the 21st state to offer workplace protection. The legislation also protects against discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and insurance.

The bill sailed through both chambers with broad, bipartisan support. This would have happened years ago had the measure been permitted to come to the floor of the State Senate for a vote. But one state senator had been able to kill the bill in committee again and again. It took his death to get the bill assigned to a different committee, where it was unanimously  voted forward to the full Senate.

It’s probably too easy to see the senator’s death as a metaphor for the passing of the kind of view that would deny basic workplace protection to gays and lesbians, but there’s something to it. Yet we need a few more celestial bodies to slam into the earth to vanquish all of the dinosaurs: Think about the fact that in a majority of states, one can still be fired or denied housing simply because of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

While the levers of power are tough to move, the vox populi is well past this issue. Overwhelming majorities of Americans support such non-discrimination laws. In large part, this support comes from the relatively recent recognition that sexual orientation is either genetically determined or so foundational to personal identity that it can’t or shouldn’t be changed. The ex-gay movement is all but an ex-movement by now, as more and more people live or work with openly gay men and lesbians, and understand that sexual orientation is as deeply rooted for them as for the straight majority.

Not state senator Robert Venables, though, who uttered the imperishable line that I’ve used for the title of this post. What “convinces” him that “lesbians can be made”? And does he think the same of gay men? Who cares? And even if he’s right(!), what difference should that make? He and the tiny minority of “no” voters represent the selvage of a view that was ascendant just a generation ago.

In desperation, opponents attempted to tack on several amendments, including one that would have effectively eviscerated the legislation by allowing reasons of belief or conscience to trump the anti-discrimination protection. This went nowhere.

As I prepare a series of posts on the new push to affix religious exemptions to marriage equality legislation, here’s a teaser: If we’re going to allow a broad religious exemption to allow discrimination against gay couples in connection with their wedding ceremony and surrounding events, why stop there? Why not allow religion to trump equality in the broader society? Thus far, there’s been little effort at systematically addressing this important issue by those who favor these broad religious exemptions. But the question can’t be avoided.