Box Turtle Bulletin

Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for June, 2015

Michigan allows religious adoption agencies to turn away couples of which they disapprove

Timothy Kincaid

June 12th, 2015

The state of Michigan has approved three bills that will authorize religious-based adoption agencies to turn away certain applicants.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday quickly signed controversial legislation allowing adoption agencies that contract with the state to decline service to prospective parents on religious grounds.

The laws impact about 17 of the state’s 62 adoption agencies and requires that all religious agencies keep referral lists so that they can send prospective couples to alternate facilities. The Governor’s rationale for signing the bills is that without the protection, some of the agencies would close and that this would result in fewer children being placed in homes.

I don’t object to adoption agencies that target their placement. If a Catholic woman wants to be certain that her son is raised respecting the beliefs and traditions of her faith, I have no problem with her going to a Catholic adoption agency that will place the child with a Catholic family.

But don’t ask me to pay for it. It stops being “charity” when you get paid to do it.

Funding religious service providers has always been a tricky proposition. But for as long as they did not discriminate in the services they provide, the state could not exclude certain providers just because they were religious.

But these bills change the ground rules. These specifically say that contractors CAN discriminate, using taxpayer funds, so long as it’s based on a religious reason. And that is an unjustifiable position for a state. If a state contractor cannot provide services to all citizens on an equal and fair basis, then it’s time to go be a charity again.

I think that the legislators and Governor in Michigan will regret this decision. While it is intended to protect religious adoption agencies from placing children with gay couples, laws tend to never stay in the box for which they were intended. Unable to just come out and say “you can refuse gay people”, the legislature used the vaguer concept of ‘religious objection’ and that is a notion that is very broad.

Of course Catholics won’t place children with gay couples. That’s a violation of their beliefs. But can they, in good conscience, place children with Satanists? I mean, c’mon, Satanists?

And then there’s Wiccans. And Pagans. Surely a Christian organization doesn’t have to place children in the homes of people who worship demon spirits in trees and lakes.

And certainly we don’t want to place Christian children with Jews, where they won’t be taught Jesus or go to heaven. Or Hindus; they’re idol worshipers. Or Muslim – definitely not Muslims. Or the crazy Pentecostals.

And, of course, atheists. Or those who are irreligious. A child needs a good moral structure.

And the list goes on. And on. All with good religious reasons.

All on the state’s dollar.

And that’s a nightmare.

NC House overrides veto on magistrate protection bill

Timothy Kincaid

June 11th, 2015

In May the North Carolina legislature passed Senate Bill 2, a bill designed to allow individual Magistrates to give up conducting marriages and to allow assistant Registrars to give up issuing marriage licenses. Republican Governor Pat McCrory vetoed the bill, saying that public officials who swear to perform the duties of their office should not be exempt from doing so.

On June 2nd, the state Senate voted to override the Governor’s veto and today the House did the same. So the bill becomes law.

Here’s what it does:

  • The Register of Deeds in a county cannot refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That is an integral part of their duties and they have to fulfill their obligations.
  • Assistant Registers of Deeds can, however, give up issuing marriage licenses altogether as part of their tasks. But they cannot pick and choose; It’s either all legal marriage licenses or none.
  • Magistrates can give up conducting marriage licenses altogether. But they cannot pick and choose; It’s either all legal marriage ceremonies or none.
  • If all magistrates in a jurisdiction refuse to conduct civil marriages, a magistrate will be assigned by the Administrative Office of the Courts. Until that magistrate is assigned, the Chief District Court Judge (or his assignee) will be deemed a magistrate to conduct civil marriages. There is no down time.
  • Marriages before a magistrate must be available a minimum of ten hours per week and over at least three days per week. This appears to be a new requirement.

While this is seen as an affront to our community, it is not clear that it will have much real impact on same-sex couples seeking marriage. The provisions require that licenses be issued and marriages be conducted and it probably matters little whether any specific Magistrates or Assistant Register of Deeds individually participate.

And it should be noted that the state has been issuing marriage licenses and conducting marriages since October 2014, and things appear to be going smoothly. I suspect that the offices of the various Registers of Deeds and Magistrates have by now pretty much identified ways to comply with the law without any serious loss of religious freedom or significant inconvenience to marrying parties. I doubt much will change.

Marriage, just like christening

Timothy Kincaid

October 2nd, 2012

Marriage is a institution in the United States that has both a religious and a civil component. But it is not the only one.

Another institution that is religious in nature that also has had a civil component is christening. Though this is less evident and a less common practice, christening or baptismal documents can in many instances be presented as evidence of citizenship. Take, for example, the Florida requirements for obtaining a driver’s license. Each citizen must produce a primary document (birth certificate, naturalization papers, etc.) and a secondary document, one of which can be “Baptism certificate, which shows date of birth and the place of baptism.”

Baptismal documents are no longer a frequent proof of birth. The social security system, use of hospitals for birth, and the adoption of state birth certificates has pretty much diminished the need. But as genealogists well know, for a significant time in this country they were the primary evidence of birth and even after the incorporation of birth records, frequently fires, lost records, racial discrimination, reconfigured county lines and inconsistent record keeping would result in church records being far more thorough and reliable than municipal records. For much of our nation’s history it was these religious documents that provided evidence of citizenship. And though it is rare, some very elderly people still rely on these records as proof of birth.

Which is an interesting parallel.

Because, just like marriage, different faiths had strongly divergent baptismal beliefs and practices. Some, like Catholics and Lutherans, practice water baptism (generally a sprinkling or dripping of water) while other protestants strenuously object to baptism before the age of consent and instead will bless or dedicate a child. But in either case, the parent will receive a document recognizing the event and listing the relevant details.

Which raises the point, what if some religious advocates sought an amendment in Florida declaring that baptismal documents would be “defined” by the state to include only for such ceremonies as conformed with Catholic doctrine? And suppose their campaign was sold to the public solely in terms of “what God designed”.

I think that there is little question that a number of denominations would immediately sue to have such an initiative stricken from the ballot as being a violation of the separation of church and state. And they would win, and rightly so.

Which makes me wonder, why doesn’t the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or the Episcopal Church or Reformed Judaism sue to have Minnesota’s discriminatory amendment stricken from the ballot? It discriminates along doctrinal lines, declaring that such marriages as are sanctioned by one church are recognized by the state while the theological practice of another church is declared to be void. And the campaign is presented purely along theological lines; their ads defend anti-gay marriage law because “it was made by God” which declares in no uncertain terms that the state of Minnesota will vote whether the beliefs about what “God made” will include the teachings of Lutherans and other liberal Christians and Jews or be excluded to just what Catholics, Mormons and other conservatives believe.

It is time for those churches who believe that the call for justice and mercy as an integral doctrine of faith compels them to defend the marriage rights of gay citizens put their faith in action. They are victims of these amendments, just as we are. They need to stand up and be strong and demand that the anti-mainline-Christianity bigotry and anti-Jewish bigotry that is all over the face of these laws cease and hold no legal standing.

Otherwise it seems to me that their beliefs about baptismal documents are more important to them than their belief in equality.