Friday, April 10, 2009

Faith Losing

The Washington Post reports that faith groups are losing legal battles against gay rights.

The lawsuits have resulted from states and communities that have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. Those laws have created a clash between the right to be free from discrimination and the right to freedom of religion, religious groups said, with faith losing. They point to what they say are ominous recent examples:

— A Christian photographer was forced by the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission to pay $6,637 in attorney’s costs after she refused to photograph a gay couple’s commitment ceremony.

— A psychologist in Georgia was fired after she declined for religious reasons to counsel a lesbian about her relationship.

— Christian fertility doctors in California who refused to artificially inseminate a lesbian patient were barred by the state Supreme Court from invoking their religious beliefs in refusing treatment.

— A Christian student group was not recognized at a University of California law school because it denies membership to anyone practicing sex outside of traditional marriage.

“It really is all about religious liberty for us,” said Scott Hoffman, chief administrative officer of a New Jersey Methodist group, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, which lost a property tax exemption after it declined to allow its beachside pavilion to be used for a same-sex union ceremony. “The protection to not be forced to do something that is against deeply held religious principles.”

But gay groups and liberal legal scholars say they are prevailing because an individual’s religious views about homosexuality cannot be used to violate gays’ right to equal treatment under the law.

“We are not required to pay the price for other people’s religious views about us,” said Jennifer Pizer, director of the Marriage Project for Lambda Legal, a gay rights legal advocacy group.

This is what it comes down to: your religious rights and the freedom to practice your religion do not automatically endow you with the right to impose them on people who do not share them or are even aware of them. In addition, just as there are reasonable limits on all the rights in the Bill of Rights — for example, you really don’t think child pornography is covered by the First Amendment, do you? — your right to practice your religion ends when it interferes with the rights of others.

I don’t have a problem with providing exemptions for organizations that wish to hire only those people who are members of their faith. That is a reasonable accommodation, and besides, who would want to work for a group that is contrary to your own beliefs? (I sincerely doubt that as a Quaker I would feel comfortable teaching at an evangelical university that requires I file a statement of belief with my application. I don’t think they’d get the subtle implication of a blank piece of paper.) However, if you are a company that provides a service to the public, be it a food bank, a hotel, a hospital or a drug store, you should not be able to deny someone your services based solely on your personal beliefs. If you’re a doctor and you don’t want to treat gay patients, whether it’s in the E.R. or in a counseling session, you need to re-think your choice of profession: what kind of doctor are you that allows you to refuse to treat a patient? The same goes for a pharmacist being told to prescribe emergency birth control; you do not get to impose yourself between a doctor and the patient.

The larger issue here isn’t really about faith-based homophobes losing their rights; to be brutal about it, they have no right to institutional bigotry masquerading as religious freedom. It’s about their inability to grasp the concept that rights are not, as Boatboy noted, a zero-sum game: granting equal rights to one group does not take away the rights of another; straight people will still be able to marry people of the opposite sex, and churches will not be forced to perform marriage ceremonies for non-members of their congregation.

Second, these people do not seem to grasp the concept that this entire discussion is not about them; the fight for equality was not started in order to defeat the Religious Right and remove Christianity from our society. Many of the people who are in the forefront of the effort to promote marriage equality are members of the clergy in a lot of religious denominations ranging from mainstream Protestant to hard-shell Roman Catholic. The so-called Christian Coalition chose to make themselves the victims, which tells you more about their ability to engage in self-promotion (and fund-raising) than it does about their own religious beliefs.

If any organization is conspiring to remove Christianity and so-called “traditional family values” from our society, it isn’t those of us who are promoting marriage equality; it’s the people like the National Organization for Marriage and the National Review that are making a mockery of their own faith and practice. In their desperate attempt to marginalize the gay community, they are turning their own weapons on themselves.