Here is the parallel: In gay-marriage debates, almost everyone concedes that clergy must not be required to perform same-sex rites that violate their consciences.
The question is whether legislatures and courts will extend protection to religious hospitals, homeless shelters, summer camps, day care centers, counseling facilities, adoption agencies and similar public ministries.
What about religious colleges that rent married-student apartments or seek accreditation for their degrees in education, counseling or social work? What about the religious-liberty rights of individuals who work as florists, wedding photographers, wedding cake bakers, counselors who do pre- or post-marital counseling and other similar forms of business?
These are only some of the thorny issues that worry many activists on both sides of the gay-rights divide. Shortly after Connecticut legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, law professor Douglas Laycock, then of the University of Michigan, shared his support for religious exemptions in a letter to state leaders.
"I support same-sex marriage," Laycock stressed. Nevertheless, the "net effect for human liberty will be no better than a wash if same-sex couples now oppress religious dissenters in the same way that those dissenters, when they had the power to do so, oppressed same-sex couples.
"Nor is it in the interest of the gay and lesbian community to create religious martyrs in the enforcement of this bill. ... Every such case will be in the news repeatedly, and every such story will further inflame the opponents of same-sex marriage.
"Refusing exemptions to such religious dissenters will politically empower the most demagogic opponents of same-sex marriage. It will ensure that the issue remains alive, bitter, and deeply divisive."
(Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.)
(c)COPYRIGHT 2012 United Feature Syndicate
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