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Same-sex marriage (SSM) in New York State

Senate activity during week of 2011-JUNE-19.
Delays and attempts to prevent voting.

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The acronym LGBT refers to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender,
and transsexual communities. SSM refers to same-sex marriage.

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This topic continues from a previous essay

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About the desire of many religious conservatives to prevent marriage equality:

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that individuals and religious organization enjoy religious freedom, including the freedom for churches to discriminate on the basis of a person's sexual orientation, religion, race, etc. In the past, churches have refused to marry loving committed couples with valid marriage licenses, on the grounds that the couples were:

  • Too young,
  • Considered to be lacking maturity,
  • Of different races,
  • Of of different religions,
  • If one of the couple was physically disabled, or
  • Where one or both parties were previously divorced.

The protection offered by the Constitution is so great that there is absolutely no possibility that a pastor, congregation or denomination might be subject to a lawsuit for refusing to marry a same sex couple on any grounds -- including sexual orientation or gender. Jeffrey Tobin, a senior legal analyst at CNN called any suggestion that a member of the clergy could be sued for refusing to marry a same-sex couple a "red herring." He referred to the seven years since SSM was legalized in Massachusetts during which no such problem has surfaced. 1 The best confirmation of this is that, to our knowledge, no woman has ever sued the Roman Catholic Church because they refused to consider her for ordination. No lesbian or gay has ever sued their church for refusing to consider them for ordination.

Still, many news sources claim that clergy and congregations might be sued if they refused to marry a same-sex couple. That is simply incompetent reporting.

A clause was added to to the bill to further protect clergy and their religious organizations from prosecution in the event that they want to continue discriminating against same-sex couples wishing to marry. The bill goes beyond just protecting religious institutions. It even protects groups that are merely affiliated with religious denominations, like the Knights of Columbus. The Knights will probably want to bar same-sex couples from renting out hall space as they have done in Canada.

Republicans are concerned about what they call "unintended consequences to this legislation." Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R) pointed out that some Roman Catholic adoption agencies in Massachusetts and Illinois chose to close down their offices rather that be required to consider same-sex couples as potential adoptive parents. Other Republicans are concerned that wedding businesses would not have adequate protection against lawsuits. These are firms that provide pre-marital courses, marriage counseling, wedding planning, photography, catering, etc. to the general public. The owner(s) might wish to discriminate against same-sex couples for personal religious reasons, and are concerned that such treatment might expose them or their companies to discrimination-based lawsuits. 2 There may also be concern about local clerks who might refuse -- on personal religious grounds -- to issue marriage licenses to every qualified couple that applies for one.

Bill Banuchi, who provides Christian marriage and family counseling and seminars through his Marriage and Family Savers Institute in Newburgh, NY, said he wouldn't be protected by any religious exemptions because his business is considered a tax-exempt, not-for-profit educational charity, not a religious institution." He said:

"We have certain principles and ethical guidelines we'd have to compromise. We would be in violation of the law and open to being sued for discrimination, and we could lose our tax-exempt status if we refused to counsel couples according to their value system. Our value system is that the only authentic marriage is between a male and a female." 3

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A shift in the definition of "religious freedom:"

There has been a gradual shift in the definition of the term "religious freedom" within the American culture. Religious freedom has historically meant the freedom to hold unpopular or minority religious beliefs without oppression. One of the principles written into the U.S. Constitution was separation of church and state. The authors of the U.S. Constitution were motivated by the memories of the horrendous oppression and loss of life in Europe due to the lack of freedom of religious belief. Up to a third of the population in some European countries died during religiously-motivated wars.

However, the concept of religious freedom is now evolving to mean the freedom to denigrate and discriminate against others, motivated by religious beliefs. Believers used to be the victims of attacks on their religious freedom. Currently, believers are often the ones who wish to actively discriminate and victimize women and minorities -- often LGBT persons.

Referring to the vast majority of Republican state senators who oppose marriage equality, Governor Cuomo said:

"They want to make sure the line between church and state is intact and is clear and however the state defines marriage, is the state's business and it will not be imposed on a religion. ... That is a very important point and I am as equally concerned about that as I am in achieving marriage equality. I believe we can address their concerns." 4

Some senators are further concerned that local municipalities may pass bylaws against individuals and companies who wish to discriminate against LGBTs. Some cities, for example, refuse to do business with any firm that discriminates on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Owners of companies could be forced to choose between upholding their personal religious beliefs to discriminate and signing lucrative financial contracts with the city. Some senators feel that the best way to avoid such conflicts would be to continue to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying in the state.

A group of more than 700 clergy and lay leaders -- mostly from mainline and liberal faith groups -- issued a statement saying that they felt that the bill currently offers adequate protections. It said in part: "There are some among us who are using religion as a smoke screen to hide their intolerance. The governor's bill specifically provides that no clergy, house of worship or denomination would be forced to perform same-sex marriages or make their facilities available to same-sex couples for marriage ceremonies, receptions or other functions."

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Senate activity during the week of 2011-JUN-19: The bill is further delayed:

Senators are still arguing about "whether religious groups could be protected from discrimination charges." Negotiations continued between Republican Senate leader Dean Skelos and Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo.

According to the Associated Press:

"Skelos worries a federal judge could strike down flimsy religious protections in the current proposal if a religious group, such as the Knights of Columbus, is sued for discrimination for refusing to provide its hall for a gay wedding. 'I think that's critically important,' Skelos said. Other opponents were more dire: 'If this passes, we will become Sodom and Gomorrah,' says one 80-year-old."

The latter is a reference to a passage in Genesis 19 that describes men from these two cities who attempted to rape three male angels who were strangers in the town. The attempt resulted in God exterminating the adults and children in the two cities. It is not clear from the context of the passage whether they were wiped out because their intent was to rape the strangers or because the men wanted to engage in inter-species sex, a.k.a. bestiality.

Pastor William Mayhew of Faith Bible Chapel in Millerton, NY said:

"We certainly have no hatred for anyone who follows this lifestyle. The difference is we will be forced in our churches, in our businesses, all of our life practices, to acknowledge something which we strongly, morally disagree." 5

Conservative Christians often use the word "lifestyle" to refer to same-sex relationships. The term implies that a person's sexual orientation is chosen and changeable. All the major professional psychiatric and psychology associations have concluded that sexual orientation in adulthood is discovered and fixed.

Rev. Tom Goodhue, the executive director of the Long Island Council of Churches, said:

"All of our faith traditions teach that all people are children of God, deserving of love, dignity, and equal protection under the law. The governor's bill specifically provides broad protection for religious freedom." 5

If all faiths taught that heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals deserved equal protection under the law, than one would expect that conservative Jewish, Christian and Muslim would all promote same-sex marriage. They don't, so we suspect that Rev. Goodhue is wrong.

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Attempts to prevent a vote on the SSM bill:

Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage sent an urgent appeal to the people on their mailing list, saying:

"There is no reason the Senate should even vote on this bill. Marriage belongs to the people of New York—not just 62 senators under intense pressure from donors, activists and lobbyists. Please call every senator on the list below and urge them to oppose the same-sex marriage bill and instead support a referendum that would give the people of New York the right to vote on marriage."

This is a curious stance, because the latest poll shows that 58% of New York adults favor SSM and 36% are opposed for a margin of 22 percentage points. 6 A referendum would be certain to be defeated. With a 22 percentage point margin, it is very unlikely that fear-based ads could overcome the gap. 7

On JUN-22, some of the hundreds of demonstrators at Albany were attempting to persuade Republicans to shelve the bill and not permit it to be debated or voted upon. Some carried signs that threatened Republicans if they did allow a vote, even if they ultimately voted against SSM.

Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long also urged Republicans in the Senate to keep the bill from the floor. At the time, 29 of the 30 Democrats were planning to vote for the bill, along with two Republicans. There were also at least two other Republicans who were undecided.

Long joined with Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. (D-Bronx), a Pentecostal minister, who is the only Democrat opposed to the bill. Their joint statement said:

"If gay marriage passes, it is Republicans across the state who will pay the biggest price."

Long has said he would withhold Conservative Party endorsement from any Republicans who votes for gay marriage. Countering this was the visit by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) to persuade Republicans to allow the bill to be debated and voted upon. Bloomberg is a longtime contributor to NY Senate Republicans.

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Discussion on this topic continues ....

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Anderson Cooper 360," CNN, 2011-JUN-22.
  2. Liz Benjamin, "Skelos: GOP Worried About ‘Unintended Consequences’ Of Gay Marriage Bill," Capital Tonight, 2011-JUN-17, at: http://www.capitaltonight.com/
  3. Michael Hill, "NY gay-marriage talks hinge on religious rights," Associated Press, 2011-JUN-22, at: http://www.sfexaminer.com/
  4. "NY marriage bill hits snags on religion questions," USA Today, 2011-JUN-19, at: http://www.usatoday.com/
  5. "NY Senate Stalls on Gay Marriage Bill. Vote delayed at least til tomorrow as they argue over religious protections," Associated Press, Monday, 2011-JUN-20, at: http://www.newser.com/
  6. "Q 19: Making same sex marriage legal in New York State," Page 4, Siena College Research Institute, 2011-APR-04/06, at: http://www.siena.edu/
  7. "Action alert: New York: Facebook ThisTweet[sic] ThisEmail[sic] This" National Organization for Marriage, 2011-JUN-20.
  8. Dan Weissner, "New York lawmakers debate allowing gay marriage," Reuters, 2011-JUN-16, at: http://www.reuters.com/
  9. Dan Weissner, "New York same sex marriage vote delayed," Reuters, 2011-JUN-17, at: http://www.reuters.com/
  10. Dan Weissner, "New York gay marriage vote hinges on handful of Republicans," Reuters, 2011-JUN-17, at: http://www.reuters.com/

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Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2011-JUN-22
Latest update: 2011-JUN-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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