- - Sunday, June 28, 2015

For many years prior to Friday’s landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision by SCOTUS, people on both sides of the same-sex marriage discussion have debated the religious liberty consequences such a decision might bring.

How long would it take before same-sex marriage proponents moved on from Obergefell and declared battle against sexual-orientation based discrimination in housing and employment? And, how quickly would they draw religious institutions into their cross hairs?

Less than 24 hours.

Taking aim #1: Evan Wolfson

In Saturday’s New York Times, Evan Wolfson, the founder and president of Freedom to Marry — and a chief architect of the political and cultural strategy for same-sex marriage, asked, “What’s Next in the Fight for Gay Equality? 

His answer:

“Securing protections from discrimination for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans needs to be our priority. In too many parts of the country, people can still be fired, evicted, refused service or even humiliated at stores or restaurants because of their sexual orientation or gender identity — in other words, just for being who they are.”

And to make things very clear, Mr. Wolfson knows that his opponent is not just a small business owner who chooses not to hire a homosexual or the owner of a duplex who decides she does not want a gay couple renting the other unit. No, Mr. Wolfson knows that the bigger giants needing to be slain, in his estimation, are all the religious institutions that would block employment or residency based on sexual orientation. For example, a Christian school or college — of which there are tens of thousands in the United States — that would not hire a gay or lesbian teacher. Or the hundreds of thousands of churches that would never give the first consideration to hiring an openly homosexual person as a minister.

So, M. Wolfson argues, the fight goes on against “the guise of religion”:

“The classic pattern in our history is that when opponents fail to block civil rights gains, they try to subvert them, often abusing the banner of religion. But the American people know that religious freedom is protected in the Constitution and is fully compatible with civil rights. A Public Religion Research Institute poll reports that 60 percent oppose special carve-outs for businesses trying to discriminate, even under the guise of religion.”

Taking aim #2: Mark Oppenheimer

Posted online Sunday at Time.com, Mark Oppenheimer wrote, “Now’s the Time To End Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions.

In case you think this is a generic reconsideration of non-profit tax-exemption law, coincidentally coming on the same weekend as the SCOTUS decision victory, Oppenheimer makes his point clear. He even acknowledges that the fears of those on the religious right are grounded.

“Two weeks ago, with a decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on the way, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah introduced the First Amendment Defense Act, which ensures that religious institutions won’t lose their tax exemptions if they don’t support same-sex marriage. Liberals tend to think Sen. Lee’s fears are unwarranted, and they can even point to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Friday’s case, which promises “that religious organizations and persons [will be] given proper protection.”

But I don’t think Sen. Lee is crazy. In the 1983 Bob Jones University case, the court ruled that a school could lose tax-exempt status if its policies violated “fundamental national public policy.” So far, the Bob Jones reasoning hasn’t been extended to other kinds of discrimination, but someday it could be. I’m a gay-rights supporter who was elated by Friday’s Supreme Court decision — but I honor Sen. Lee’s fears.

I don’t, however, like his solution. And he’s not going to like mine. Rather than try to rescue tax-exempt status for organizations that dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality, we need to take a more radical step. It’s time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt statuses.”

Taking Aim #3: Front page of Sunday’s New York Times

The main headline read, “Next Fight for Gay Rights: Bias in Jobs and Housing.” Journalist Erik Eckholm, who consistently does a great job in reporting religion stories, writes:

“As they push for more state and local safeguards, rights advocates are also starting a long-term campaign for a broad federal shield that would give sexual orientation and gender identity protected status under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

…But some disagreements, especially involving private businesses, may be unbridgeable. The major gay and civil rights groups are united in their opposition to “religious liberty” bills, a priority of conservative Christian advocates, which would allow religious vendors to refuse to serve gay couples or wedding celebrations. “Religious liberty does not authorize discrimination,” said James D. Esseks, the director of gay rights issues at the American Civil Liberties Union.”

 

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