The entirely bogus “religious convictions” objection
July 20th, 2011
One of the whiny complaints made by anti-gay activists about New York’s new marriage equality bill is that it is not sensitive to the religious convictions of public employees. The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue (who appears to waging a PR campaign to equal Catholicism with pigheaded bigotry) is all wounded and martyry about it in a commentary today:
Indeed, under New York State law, the onus is on the employer to show that it would cause “undue hardship” if an employee were to exercise his “sincerely held” religious beliefs.
Now it is fatuous to say that it would cause an “undue hardship” in the workplace if clerks, and deputy clerks, who do not have an issue with giving marriage licenses to homosexuals handled these matters for those who do. It cannot be said too strongly: Bullying those who have religious objections is despicable.
There is an obvious hole in New York’s gay marriage law: religious exemptions need to be extended to lay people, not just the clergy.
Well, I’m all for respecting sincerely held religious beliefs. But I’m failing to find one here.
Sure there are people who sincerely believe that I should not marry a person of the same sex. And due to those beliefs, they would not attend my wedding, conduct the vows, offer a blessing, or even congratulate me. And I wouldn’t expect them to.
But while I’m familiar with the Bible and pretty up on how religion is practiced in America, I am unaware of any doctrine of any sect that forbids its followers to hand me a piece of paper . That’s what we’re talking about, issuing a form, typing responses in a database. And there are no doctrinal assessments I know of which assign responsibility or any presumption of participation – not even those of the Catholic Church – from the issuance or filing of forms.
Some Christians read in the verse portion from Habakkuk “woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk…” a prohibition on working in a bar or liquor store. Some are even troubled at serving alcoholic beverages as a waitress or grocery clerk. But I’ve never heard even the most conservative of Christians argue that they have some obligation not to hand out the form to request a liquor license.
And it goes without saying that many churches, the Catholic Church in particular, oppose the very existence of medical clinics which offer abortion services. Yet they do not suggest that the County Building Inspector refuse to issue a building license or that the city Clerk refuse to process a Business License. None of this administrative process is considered to be a part of, or the administrators culpable for, the abortions that will be conducted at the site.
There simply are no religious beliefs held by any of these public employees, sincerely or otherwise, which forbid them to administer the paperwork involved with any other businesses, marriages, divorces, or other vital statistics which they find morally objectionable. And if there were, their argument is a bit specious considering that they’ve been violating those beliefs with regularity for years.
Now I have less of a problem with Rosemary Centi, the city clerk in upstate Guilderland, who resigned from her position as marriage officer out of her religious conviction that she should not conduct gay marriages. But she will continue to remain the elected town clerk and issue marriage licenses to all eligible applicants, including gay couples. While I think it a rather peculiar belief that allows you to officiate at marriage between divorcees or people of mixed faith but not gay people, I don’t doubt that her decision is sincere. And I have to respect that Rosemary was able to distinguish between her own personal involvement as officiant and the processing of paperwork.
And I think that this distinction is perfectly obvious to any who think about it.
Why is it that some people would rather quit their jobs than treat gay couples with the same bureaucratic procedure as anyone else standing in line at the clerk’s counter? What is behind the peculiar notion that a public employee can deny civil services to a member of the public if they don’t pass their personal religious test? It certainly isn’t Scripture or doctrine or consistent moral character.
So perhaps Bill Donohue should consider whether he’s doing his church a favor by making this a big deal. His efforts to make Catholics look like victims may result in making them look like something else entirely.