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Gay Marriage and Religious Freedom

This story out of Ledyard, New York, which is a very small town just up the lake from Ithaca, is interesting for a number of reasons. The gist of it is that the town clerk, a self-described "Bible-believing Christian," believes that signing the marriage licenses of same-sex couples would violate her religious convictions. Since New York law requires her to issue those licenses, she has delegated the task of signing them to a deputy clerk. As a result, marriage licenses are only available in Ledyard with a prior appointment. A lesbian couple moved into town from Miami, sought a marriage license and then refused to wait for an appointment, preferring instead to file a lawsuit. On one side is People for the American Way, representing the couple. On the other side is the Alliance Defense Fund. So, first off, this is one of those stories that makes you just sigh, for lots of reasons, which I won't go into because they seem pretty obvious. What the story does bring out, though, is something that will be very different about same-sex couples' push for civil rights from other civil rights movements we've seen over the past few decades.{C}

Although there have always been churches and religious institutions that have espoused racial hatred or supremacy or separation of some sort or another, and although some of the arguments people raised in favor of Jim Crow were religious, they were (and even more so now, are) mostly on the fringe of both society and Christian thought. The bulk of opposition to civil rights was rooted in uncritical tradition and custom. In addition, there was a critical mass—perhaps the bulk of—Christian theological opinion on the side of civil rights. What we see with same sex marriage is somewhat different. There are religious people (myself included) who favor marriage rights for same-sex couples. And most of us can even make religious arguments in favor of our position. But the center of gravity of the pro-marriage position is decidedly secular. On the other side is an opposition that is expressed in almost purely religious terms. And, while I disagree with their theological arguments on theological grounds, I can admit that their position represents the historical mainstream of Christian thinking on homosexuality, one that has prevailed for many, many generations. However one wants to characterize the views of anti-same-sex-marriage advocates, it is impossible to relegate it to the fringe of Christian thought, even contemporary Christian thought. So this sets up a dilemma for same-sex marriage rights that civil rights in other contexts have not had to confront as seriously. Of course,there have been individuals who have claimed a right to discriminate on the grounds of race or, more commonly, gender, for religious reasons. But those claims have been easier to sideline. The fight over marriage is different. Even though it is clear that public opinion is moving in the direction of acceptance of same sex marriage, my sense is that opposition is likely to remain entrenched among religious conservatives.

On its face, the Ledyard town clerk's solution—delegating the task she finds objectionable to a deputy clerk who is willing to perform the duty—seems to strike a reasonable balance. Same sex (and straight) couples in Ledyard get their marriage licenses, and the town clerk can keep her job while remaining faithful to her religious convictions. I can certainly understand the offense that the plaintiffs took upon learning the reasons for the requirement that they make an appointment to receive their marriage license. But, since a straight couple has to go through exactly the same appointment process, I am struggling to understand the deep principle that is at stake. The general counsel of Peope for the American Way says that the town clerk's religious convictions don't give her "the right to use them to relieve herself from doing a major part of her duties." I understand what she is saying as a legal matter—thanks to Employment Division v. Smith, the legal entitlement to special treatment under the Free Exercise Clause has been dramatically narrowed. But I'm more interested in the substance of the matter. What is the genuine harm of allowing the town clerk to delegate this task, as long as the task gets done, albeit with some delay, and as long as it gets done equally for same-sex and straight couples?

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Yes, King Henry refused to understand too.

If you stood in line with a document to be signed, let's say a driver's license form, and when you finally got to the window the clerk said come back tomorrow, what would you say? WHY? Answer: because my religious beliefs prevent me from serving men. Or Catholics. Or people with tildes in their ames. No genuine harm done, right?

Yes, but that's not what happened in Ledyard, Gerelyn. They didn't single out same sex couples for the delay. They simply required ALL people seeking marriage licenses to make an appointment with the deputy clerk. I don't think I would be offended by that process, in and of itself. I understand why they took offense from the reasons for the implementation of the policy, but I guess I don't see the harm from the policy as such.

this is one of those stories that makes you just sigh, for lots of reasons, which I wont go into because they seem pretty obvious . . . the center of gravity of the pro-marriage position is decidedly secular. On the other side is an opposition that is expressed in almost purely religious terms. And, while I disagree with their theological arguments on theological grounds . . .__________________Actually, the knowledge of the truth of marriage, which some, in order to twist the argument might call "opposition" to "same-sex marriage," is founded entirely on historical and sociological grounds, as well as the ontology of the nature of the human person, none of which requires one to believe in God, much less Christ, to understand. However, in addition to these, there is that understanding derived from revelation, i.e. the religious understanding of marriage.And, actually, your "reasons" and your "theological grounds" are far from obvious. Please enlighten us, beyond sliming the Church (again) with your comparison to Jim Crow, etc., and beyond winks and nods.Just exactly what is your theology of the nature of man (male and female), including your theology of the nature of marriage?

I read it, even the inside part. I even asked my husband what he thought. (Forget what he said. Something about a recall to get her out of there.) She sounds like a jerk.

Bender -- you crack me up. This is not a post about the substance of the arguments for or against same-sex marriage. Whatever the merits of Robby George's arguments about the nature of marriage, most opponents of same-sex marriage (like the woman in this story) voice them in purely religious terms (she read from Romans to the reporter to explain her position). If you want to comment on the issue of religious freedom and marriage, please feel free to do so, but if you try to hijack this thread into an argument about the merits of gay marriage, I will begin to delete your comments from the thread.

This issue has been dealt with before and in fairly recent history. A judge in the south this past year, refused to marry a mixed race couple because of his "religious" beliefs. It was found that he was NOT allowed to do that. When a public employee who was hired to do a job for the public, ALL of the public, refuses to perform that job for whatever reason, that should be sufficient reason for termination. To say that religious objection to racial issues was held by the "fringe" of society is totally incorrect. Having grown up in the south, I was all too familiar with the stand main stream churches took toward segregation and mixed race marriage. One of the most out spoken was the very large Southern Baptist Convention whose member churches vehemently opposed mixed race marriage on "Biblical" grounds. Being one of the largest Protestant denominations, they can hardly be called "fringe". As will eventually happen in the case of same sex marriage, these groups will realize that scripture does not support their view.However, this country was founded upon the concept of a separation of church and state. Marriage is and always has been a civil matter in this country from the time of the Pilgrims where marriages were performed by magistrates, NOT clergy. In this case, no religion is required for marriage and none should be forced upon others. In essence, by refusing to acknowledge this civil law, this clerk is attempting to force HER personal views under the guise of religion on the general population.I would suggest that anyone is entitled to their beliefs but they should not be able to push those beliefs on others through their taxpayer paid, employment.

An intriguing legal and moral case. It raises for me, again, my discomfort with the robust "equality" principle that stands at the heart of (Rawlsian) liberalism - a principle articulated in the last sentence of the comment above:"I would suggest that anyone is entitled to their beliefs but they should not be able to push those beliefs on others through their taxpayer paid, employment."This characterization of deeply held moral belief as merely "private" when we disagree with it is troubling - not least of all because the same principle can be applied AGAINST same sex marriage (it seems to me). In other words, if we take this equality principle seriously, an opponent of same sex marriage can say to proponents, "You're entitled, of course, to your belief about marriage, but you should not be allowed to push that belief on the rest of us by seeking to legally redefine marriage." So this formulation of the principle just doesn't seem to move the ball very far because of course pushing a belief about something on other is precisely what we do in every legislative act.Moreover, the equality principle, rather than being wholly "neutral" as its proponents often tout, actually threatens to "flatten" out significant cultural differences between us, yet all in the name of diversity. That is a curious outcome. I would find proponents of same sex marriage (at least on Rawlsian equality grounds) much more convincing if, instead of seeking to marginalze dissenting views (which remains at roughly half of the country), would provide SOME modest accomodations to those who disagree with them. The Ledyard situation strikes me as a common sense, pragmatic accomodation.

Mickey -- I take your point about the Baptists. I guess I have my doubts about whether we'll see the same progression on gay marriage. I hope you're right. I think this case is different than the magistrate who refused to preside over mixed race marriages. This is a situation where the clerk is just delegating the marriage license task wholesale to a deputy. So she's not discriminating in the sense of picking and choosing which licenses to sign, though her reasons for delegating the task are admittedly discriminatory (she doesn't want to sign same-sex licenses). Would you feel the same way about, say, a police officer in a department that prohibits facial hair who does not want to shave his beard because he is a Sikh? The difference there is that the religious objection does not involve anyone else's rights, but is your position that there is no room for religious exemptions in public employment?

Eduardo - I agree with your analysis. It's a perceptive point that, because Christian opposition to same-sex marriage is a traditional and mainstream Christian belief, proponents of same-sex marriage will find it impossible to relegate opponents of the lunatic fringe. Both sides of the argument need to mentally prepare themselves for the reality that this will be many-decades, multi-generational, probably unresolvable divisiveness. Just like abortion.I also agree with you that the town clerk's accommodation to the state law is reasonable. MickeyC, in your view, do government employers ever have conscience rights that must be accommodated?I can't help wonder what it is about the Miami couple's situation that their wedding was so urgent that the marriage license couldn't wait a day. As presented here, it smells like ginned-up situation to provoke a lawsuit.

Though same-gender couples and heterosexual couples both receive the same treatment, they receive different treatment than couples in other parts of the state. That is unfair. I respect the clerk's religious freedom, however, if the task of issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples infringes on her religious beliefs, perhaps she should look for a job in an office where her tasks are more in line with her religious beliefs. Making other people suffer for her religious beliefs hardly seems fair.

Agree, Francis. Those who think the discrimination is reasonable should decide how far it can go. Can a clerk who believes heterosexual marriage is wrong get away with making heterosexual couples drive into town again when a clerk sympathetic to their orientation is on duty?

Thanks for a thoughtful post and an interesting (and thoughtful) thread.I think the following statement is likely accurate in the near future:"Even though it is clear that public opinion is moving in the direction of acceptance of same sex marriage, my sense is that opposition is likely to remain entrenched among religious conservatives."I wonder about the medium-to-long term future however (e.g., 10 to 30 years from now). There has been a slow and steady (about 1% a year, if I recall correctly) shift in public opinion---both nationally and in individual states---towards greater support for gay marriage/civil unions. That trend shows no signs of abating.Gay civil marriage may become a generational issue (even among religious conservatives), by which I mean that opposition, even among religious conservatives, may continue to ebb---particularly as those under 30 age and assume positions of power in their churches.

I'm not sure that I agree with the premise that previous civil rights battles had the opponents of those rights in a "fringe" position relative to mainstream Christian practice and theology. Just as one example, for Catholics, John McGreevy's classic Parish Boundaries argues exactly the opposite: that Catholic opponents of integration had, in addition to "uncritical custom and tradition," the weight of a lot of traditional theology on their side. This was opposed by a *different* group which was evolving a new and profoundly more egalitarian view of theology.

When I read the story this morning and saw that each side had a national advocacy group doing their legal work, I concluded that it was a set-up to test the law's conscience accommodation. Perhaps the town clerk's carefully crafted alternative of having a deputy was part of the set-up. Perhaps the women petitioners recently arrived from Miami were pointed to that particular town clerk. Will be interesting to see how the courts (up to the Supreme Court?) rule on this.As the story reported, a few town clerks in NYS resigned because they were opposed to the new law. Perhaps that is the easiest way out of the "rights" dilemma, and one supposes over time that potential candidates for town clerk will not stand for election if they have religious convictions opposed to same-sex marriage.Can we predict what the next set-up will be? The VFW that won't rent its facilities for a same-sex wedding reception?

Bender,You are a clear thinking person. Never waver in your defense of the truth.

One might claim that this country was founded on the very basic principle that individuals have a right to be different from others, that this is the very foundation of our freedoms. Well, one might say that, but it's a gross oversimplification, and it does not articulate what should happen when one person's freedom conflicts with another person's freedom. Granted, the Constitution doesn't say that we have an absolute right to all of our rights, to all of our freedoms. But then in cases such as these metaphysics rears its ugly head: what is an absolute right v. a relative right? Are any of our constitutional rights absolute? Or are they all relative -- that is, sometimes operable but sometimes not?If they are relative are some rights so to speak 'stronger" or 'more powerful' legally than others? IF so, how do we determine which relative right has a greater claim to legal protection than some other relative right? I think this is the problem this case presents.And what about the solution to such problems? ISTM that deciding the "stronger" right requires two considerations? Does the right require either party to DO something against his conscience as distinguished from REFRAINING from doing something when someone else can do what needs doing for the other person with the counter-right? (Yeah, complexity.) Why can one not simply refrain from effecting the counter-right? (That's the way I lean.) That solution allows the other person to DO what he/she has a right to do and the first person NOT to do what he/she has a right not to do. (Don't ask what if only one person can do what is at issue. There may be no solution to that one :-(The principles in the case, of course, are not trivial. Many of the social services provided by charities (e.g., adoption, certain medical proceedures, etc.) involve the very same issues. And so far the people with the right not-to-do are losing, as are all the people who are losing the opportunity to get good health care from religious hospitals

P. S. I think that in Eduardo's case the issue should be settled this way:If the applicant's have to come back to get the licence, it has cost them some inconveniece. If the registrar has to sign the paper, it will cost her her job. Less hard would be done by the latter, so it should be the choice.

Suppose the clerk delegates issuance of same-sex marriage licenses to an assistant clerk who is always on duty with the clerk during office hours, and appointments aren't necessary for obtaining licenses. Would that be an acceptable accommodation? On the basis of the single quote in the NYT's article, the lawyers for the same-sex couple seem focused not on the appointment issue, but on the clerk's blanket refusal to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

Good post, Eduardo -- "good," of course, meaning I agree with it! I read the piece this ayem with the same sigh. Seems like everyone (starting with the couple in question) is eager to put their principles on display rather than cultivate human solutions. That said, my sympathy for the town clerk doesn't extend too far. She seems to have such a narrow reading of the Bible that it only condemns relations between homosexuals, and not straight promiscuity and all of the other things she signs off on when she gives out marriage licenses for cohabitors and divorcees and the like. The clerk is not Catholic, but in her literalist reading of sacred texts no Catholic could perform her duties for people of another religion.

Sometime, I think that lawyers, plaintiffs, and defendants should practice, "Live and let live." Eduardo makes a good case that this is one of those times.

William C - I had the same thought you did re: making the assistant clerk more available. But apparently, solving the local logistics are secondary to what this case is really about.

Another distinction that needs to be made in this discussion is the difference between a right to *believe* or think and rights to act or not act. There is no question in this case that the registrar has a right to believe as she does. The issue is whether she has a right to not-act according to her religious belief. If the answer is no she has no such right, then this becomes true: the applicants have a right to demand that she perform a certain act in her job. (That, it might be said, reminds one of slavery.)Eduardo -- I don't think the issue is whether or not one has a right to discriminate at least in some circumstances. Obviously we do when we don't ask certain people to our parties, though in New Orleans that has become an issue with Mardi Gras organizations. That involves another (moral) question: when must we not discriminate?

The town clerk could always take the truly high road, admit that she cannot in good conscience carry out the duties of her job, & resign. A straight couple should join the same sex couple in the suit, since all are inconvenienced.

Jim P. --I suspect that what this case is really about is not just fairness for gay couples but the right of Catholic hospitals to refuse to provide abortions. PFTAW's involvement suggest to me that that is the larger issue. This is a nice clear little case that would challenge the principles involved in the Catholic health care debates.

Actually a good deal of the inconvenience in town clerk's offices in small town like the one under discussion comes from budget constraints which permit them to be open only part-time. Everyone should sue! People wanting dog licenses, hunting licenses, marriage licenses, etc.

I join with Eduardo, David Gibson, and Margaret in thinking that litigating as many disagreements as the law allows is not a good way to promote a sense of the common good, which will always involve not pressing one's legal rights as far as possible. Good politics is about coming to agreement whenever possible, not about winning legal battles.In today's complex society, there will unavoidably be lots of battles about rights of one sort or another. I'm not complaining about that. I do think, though, that a person is a better citizen when he or she looks for ways to form a consensus than to go to trial. I may be mistaken, but I think I've heard that good judges always prefer settlements arrived at by the parties to trials.

This sort of conflict is bound to occur more frequently in the future as both traditional religion and traditional morality are increasingly sidelined in our secular societies. I suppose Christians will have their faith tested in an increasing number of tangible ways. Little martyrdoms. Or not so little. In this particular case, it's possible that the town clerk will be forced out of her job.Ann

Ann Olivier 09/28/2011 - 12:38 pm subscriberP. S. I think that in Eduardos case the issue should be settled this way:If the applicants have to come back to get the licence, it has cost them some inconveniece. If the registrar has to sign the paper, it will cost her her job. Less har[m] would be done by the latter, so it should be the choice.

seems to feel that if it came to that, she ought to just suck it up. Seems to me that's a big sacrifice to make, but in a society increasingly hostile to traditional religion and traditional morality, she may have no choice.Ann, are you comfortable with people's consciences being depreciated like this? That is, are you comfortable living in a society in which conscience is treated as of little more importance than, say, consumer preference?

Can we predict what the next set-up will be? The VFW that wont rent its facilities for a same-sex wedding reception?----------Maybe the "next set-up" will be this afternoon. Testing the law is a citizen's right. A few examples of tests:http://www.brownvboard.info/decision.htm

David S. --Oops -- I said exactly the opposite of what I intended to say. I should have said 'the former' alternative would be the better one, like this:"If the applicants have to come back to get the licence, it has cost them some inconveniece. If the registrar has to sign the paper, it will cost her her job. Less harm would be done by the former (having the couple be inconvenienced) , so it should be the choice."The reason it should be the choice is because, as a number of bloggers have pointed out, it is to the advantage of the whole community that we try to honor the feelings and needs of others as best we can. This means that sometimes you'll be accommodated, sometimes I will, but hopefully it will even out.

As a one-off arrangement, this is reasonably good. Not ideal, of course, but workable. But as a model, it has some serious problems. What happens in a jurisdiction that lacks either the activity to justify a second clerk or the funds to pay one? What happens if the deputy doesn't want to do it either?

The reason it should be the choice is because, as a number of bloggers have pointed out, it is to the advantage of the whole community that we try to honor the feelings and needs of others as best we can. This means that sometimes youll be accommodated, sometimes I will, but hopefully it will even out.There has to be a line somewhere as to when people take responsibility for their own demands of conscience as opposed to asking society (government, employers, friends, etc.) to accommodate them. If I am opposed to serving alcohol, I should not expect to get a job as a bartender and serve only customers who want ginger ale. If I am a Muslim who believes dogs are unclean, I should not seek employment at a kennel. If I am a town clerk whose job it is to sign marriage licenses for same-sex marriages, and same-sex marriage is the law in my state, I should either sign the licenses or get another job.

For me to participate in the same-sex marriage application process I dont feel is right, she said. God doesnt want me to do this, so I cant do what God doesnt want me to do, just like I cant steal, or any of the other things that God doesnt want me to do.

If they asked her to steal, would she say, "I can't. It's against the law of God. I'll have my assistant do it." If she believes gay marriage is immoral, she shouldn't fob off the dirty work on an assistant. She should get out. I have people who work for me, and if there is something I feel I can't do in good conscience, it doesn't get done. I don't say, "Gee, I feel this is wrong. I'll delegate it."

Bob N. --How long has the woman held the job? Was signing gay marriage licences part of the job description when she was hired? If not, I think she can make a case that the State should have told her before so she wouldn't invest so much of her working life in that job.

OOps -- I should have addressedd that to David N. Sorry.The complexity of real world moral situations is one of the reasons why Aquinas said that the further away you get from the basic principles of natural law, the less certain your conclusions about what to do are. And I don't doubt that this is true of positive law as well.

Agree, David N. -------- To Margaret: You said: "Perhaps the women petitioners recently arrived from Miami were pointed to that particular town clerk. Will be interesting to see how the courts (up to the Supreme Court?) rule on this."The women own a farm nearby. You said: "The VFW that wont rent its facilities for a same-sex wedding reception?"I think I've read that certain businesses, florists, owners of halls and bed-and-breakfasts, etc. are refusing to serve gay/Lesbian couples. (Not in Ledyard. Forget where, Long Island, maybe.)Ledyard has an opera house and a lakeside inn -- wine-tasting weekends go for "as much as $813 per couple." I wonder how they feel about this clerk, and what impact the publicity will have on their business and on Wells College. http://www.wells.edu/

David, a town clerk has other things to do with their time besides signing marriage licenses. It's just a matter of redistributing tasks. Before, everyone did everything. Now, some sensitive task is reserved to one person, so as to avoid barring all town clerk jobs from the people who won't sign a same-sex marriage license.If you are opposed to serving alcohol, you might still expect a job at a hotel. It used to be that every member of the staff would deliver alcohol to every customer who requested it. Now they have restructured the way they work so that only the bartender delivers alcohol. That's a common sense compromise solution.To make it completely clean, the town hall could rename its positions and detail the tasks associated with each. Tasks of town clerk A would include signing marriage licenses, tasks of town clerk B would not include it. Then a person who objects to same-sex marriage would know to apply to position B only, not position A. Really, I wish lawyers occupied their time with better pursuits than this.What if in some large restaurant someone claims to be allergic to some specific food if they touch it, although you suspect (or maybe you are convinced) that it's only in their head? Will you force them to touch it, threatening to fire them if they don't, or will you simply give them tasks that do not include touching that food? I say: if there are enough tasks to occupy them full time, and if it can be done without too much inconvenience, it is much better to humor them. Let's be real!

A commenter on this blog http://www.gayrightswatch.com/2005/08/gay-friendly-colleges-ranked-reed.... says Wells is "pretty gay".

"Ms. Belforti is at the heart of an emerging test case, as national advocacy groups look to Ledyard . . ." She is "represented by a Christian legal advocacy group based in Arizona, . . ."Who's testing the law, the women who run the working farm near Ledyard or the woman "who worships at several area churches"?

Ann--I agree with you that this "nice clear little case" is related to the Catholic hospitals/abortion issue. There is a new twist on that issue, i.e., the growing trend for hospital mergers, including the merger of non-religious hospitals with Catholic hospitals:http://www.courant.com/health/connecticut/hc-hospitals-merge-0929-201109... the reported case, the Catholic hospital will reportedly "continue to provide medical care consistent with the ethical and religious directives for Catholic health care services." That may be true, but I can foresee some knotty legal issues that can (and probably will arise).But back to the clerk's office ... What I think all concerned should do is go for a half-day to one of the many fine vineyards in NY's Finger Lakes area and get to know each other during a wine tasting or two (or more). I feel confident they will realize they have much more in common than they realize.

The complexity of real world moral situations is one of the reasons why Aquinas said that the further away you get from the basic principles of natural law, the less certain your conclusions about what to do are. And I dont doubt that this is true of positive law as well.Ann,I'm not quite sure what you are saying, but what I am saying is that if you believe something to be immoral, it doesn't get you off the hook to assign it to a subordinate. It's really very simple. It would be different if someone else headed the office, and the town clerk asked that person (her boss) to please assign someone else to the task. The town clerk would have no responsibility. But a supervisor is directly responsible for the work he or she assigns a subordinate to do. It just isn't a good enough moral solution to say, "I think that's immoral. I'll arrange for my assistant to do it." She's still responsible, and if the best she can do is to fob off something she believes is immoral on an assistant, she ought to quit. She's the boss. Ultimately, she is the one responsible for issuing the licenses, even if she is not doing it with her own hands. The article says,

Ms. Belforti, a Republican, first won election as town clerk a decade ago, and thought she had a creative solution this summer to a vexing problem by agreeing to delegate the signing of marriage licenses.

If she believes it is immoral to sign marriage licenses for same-sex marriages, she has no right to delegate the task to someone else, even if that person has no objection. She has deemed it immoral, and it doesn't become moral for another person to do it just because the other person has no objection to it. She is lacking in integrity and does not have the courage of her convictions. She ought to take responsibility or resign.

In New York City marriage bureaus were opened on a Sunday which was the first day gay marriages became legal. People worked overtime, judges were available in all the boroughs, the mayor presided at Gracey Mansion for the wedding of two of his deputies, etc. Any number of special arrangements were made for the festive occasion and any concerns about the city's perennial budget crisis were downplayed.Of course, those wanting to get married in the next few days undoubtedly had a longer than usual wait because resources had been shifted. If anyone complained about special treatment it wasn't recorded.Jonathan Rauch (a gay marriage advocate) made some prescient observations about the need for reasonable accommodations in the wake of gay victories. He argued that there's no need to sue some hapless bakery when you can't procure rainbow-colored cupcakes for your wedding -- not that there's anything wrong with suing, of course, and perhaps that will be the next step for our Ledyard pioneers. And then a local adoption agency. The possibilities are endless.http://www.jonathanrauch.com/jrauch_articles/the-emerging-gay-majority/

Let me allow my Mother to rephrase my question to Professor Penalver: Since it is true that most of our Civil Rights are grounded in our fundamental, unalienable Right to be treated with dignity and respect, and it is true that our unalienable Rights have been endowed to us from God, then on what grounds, secular or theological, can any State or person coerce any person(s) into condoning the engaging in or affirmation of any sexual relationship that does not respect our inherent dignity as human persons?

Since it is true that most of our Civil Rights are grounded in our fundamental, unalienable Right to be treated with dignity and respect, and it is true that our unalienable Rights have been endowed to us from God, then on what grounds, secular or theological, can any State or person coerce any person(s) into condoning the engaging in or affirmation of any sexual relationship that does not respect our inherent dignity as human persons?Hello there, Nancy Danielson!

"Would you feel the same way about, say, a police officer in a department that prohibits facial hair who does not want to shave his beard because he is a Sikh?"Actually I would. Every job we take comes with a set of qualifications and perimeters. When we interview for that job, all the qualifications and requirements are made clear. If there is a dress code for instance in the case of police, we have have decide if we are willing to wear a police uniform. The military has very specific requirements about hair which they enforce. The point is, if your religion is the most important thing to you, you would not take ANY job that conflicts with that. To expect the job to conform to your religion is ridiculous. That way, anything I didn't want to do, I could just tell my employer that my religious beliefs didn't allow me to do that. The difference there is that the religious objection does not involve anyone elses rights, but is your position that there is no room for religious exemptions in public employment?Indeed it DOES involve other people's rights. When you refuse to do your job for the general public you are refusing to acknowledge other people's rights to marry in this case. What if I thought that people of different religions shouldn't marry? If the woman worked for a specific religion that would be different. She works for the taxpayers of the country, some of those tax payers want and have the legal right to be married. What if a fireman says I have no intention of going to a same sex couples house that's on fire because my religion is against same sex marriage? When you accept a job, you have to do the job you were hired to do.

Gerelyn,You inform us that a commenter on some other blog says Wells is "pretty gay"; a commenter on this blog, you, says she "sounds like a jerk." Enough. The subject of this thread is not Wells's appearance or overall character, about which you know as little as the rest of us here -- which is to say, almost nothing.

When you accept a job, you have to do the job you were hired to do.

That's fine, so long as there's always a good job that fits your needs and abilities. In fact, we aren't all able to do just any job that's available and there are only a limited number available of jobs of any kind.It's also the position of the government toward Catholic hospitals: If you take our money, you need to accept the conditions we put on it.Things are seldom what they seem.

David, a town clerk has other things to do with their time besides signing marriage licenses.Claire,I should make it clear that my comments don't address the legal question. However, as a moral issue, I don't see how a superior can justify handing off a task he or she considers immoral to a subordinate. If it's immoral for the superior, it's immoral for the subordinate. The fact that the subordinate may not consider it immoral does not relieve the superior of any responsibility. Think of it with abortion. If I am the head of surgery at a hospital, and I am called upon to perform an abortion, I can't just assign that to a subordinate who doesn't believe abortion is wrong. We here so much talk of moral relativism, a lot of it meaning, "You disagree with me, so you're a moral relativist." So usually it's nonsense. But in this case, if the superior says, "It's immoral for me, but my subordinate doesn't think it's immoral, so for him it isn't," that is indeed moral relativism. Morally, the town clerk doesn't have a leg to stand on. That doesn't solve the legal issues, however, or at least not for this as a general issue.

Thats fine, so long as theres always a good job that fits your needs and abilities. In fact, we arent all able to do just any job thats available and there are only a limited number available of jobs of any kind.David Smith,Which is a good reason for saying if a person is unwilling to perform certain duties that he or she is perfectly capable of doing, the job should go to someone else. The important phrase in civil rights law, I believe, is reasonable accommodation. My understanding is that the employer is to take reasonable steps to deal with conscience claims of an employee. Even though town clerk is a government job, I don't think people applying for marriage licenses should be counted as the employer. So I disagree with Ann that they should bear any of the burden of accommodating the town clerk.

When you accept a job, you have to do the job you were hired to do.And when the details of the job description changes, everyone has to show a little bit of flexibility to adjust, or else we cannot live in a diverse society. Who has never negotiated with their fellow workers to organize work in a way that makes sense and that is not intolerable to anyone? I've always thought the Catholic church was silly to worry about potentially being forced to preside over same-sex marriages or being forced to have same-sex marriages happen inside Catholic churches, but this kind of stories makes me see that there is some reason for them to be worried. Fanatics exist in every stripe, including same-sex marriage proponents!

(David N - you might be right about Nancy)I just want to note that the town clerk didn't precisely *apply* for the job, nor was she precisely *hired* by the town. She was *elected* to the position by the people of the town. I don't know whether or not that's a distinction with a difference, but istm that the town will resolve the issue on its own during the next election, and I believe the story indicates that she already has an opponent.I still don't see that it is unreasonable for any gay or straight couple to have to make an appointment for a couple of days hence to apply for a marriage license.It occurs to me that this situation, which features no discrimination against gay couples and a good-faith attempt to make a non-litigious and reasonable accommodation while respecting conscience rights, has the potential to fire up the Religious Right. It seems clear that the woman is being sued for holding a mainstream religious belief. In essence, it seeks to make it illegal to believe an important tenet of Christianity. Winning the case in court could by Pyrrhic for the gay rights movement.

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