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With new gay-marriage law comes misinformation and tall tales

With new gay-marriage law comes misinformation and tall tales
Courtesy of Catholics for Marriage Equality
MN Dept. of Human Rights website: "The new law provides specific exemptions for religious entities from taking part in the solemnization of same-sex marriages."

Have you heard the one about the Colorado baker who’s facing a jail stay for his refusal to make a wedding cake for two men who were married in Massachusetts? It’s all over YouTube and Facebook.

OK, so it’s not their marriage that created the legal issue but the fact that Colorado -- which has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage -- prohibits discrimination by businesses. And in fact the potential for criminal sanctions has been stripped from the state’s anti-discrimination statute.

And it turns out it’s not so much a lawsuit as a Civil Rights Commission complaint that’s more than a year old. And the baker in question didn’t just turn down one couple but several, opining that making a cake for them would be like making one for a pedophile celebration. (Although he is at peace making cakes for dog weddings, apparently.)

Other than that, the newest tale of LGBT persecution of a shopkeeper exercising his First Amendment right to religious freedom is for real. And, with same-sex weddings slated to take place here next week, local bakers, too, should fear persecution.

Welcome, Minnesota, not just to the ranks of states that recognize LGBT marriage rights, but to the murkier plane of the Internet meme that resists fact-checking.

In the run-up to the 2008 vote on Prop 8, California’s now-overturned constitutional amendment, foes of same-sex marriage realized they had a problem. Popular opinion might not have yet swung in favor of LGBT marriage rights, but many people did not see how someone else’s marriage was any of their business.

So the strategists behind the successful Prop 8 campaign set out to create negative consequences for married heterosexuals, albeit hypothetical consequences that might occur in the future. Chief among these: Churches and people of faith would be persecuted if they disapproved of same-sex unions.

The tactic turned out to be so powerful that the resulting “argument from consequence” campaign messaging carried the day for four years and in 31 states. Never mind that virtually all of the cases mentioned in the breathless ads involved laws that had nothing to do with marriage.

Groups issue warnings

The groups are now warning that Minnesota officials have targeted those who oppose the new law.

“MN Makes Clear: Individuals, Businesses, Nonprofits All Face Lawsuits From SSM,” is the headline on an entry on the National Organization for Marriage’s blog. “The Minnesota Department of Human Rights today released rules listing all of the individuals who now face lawsuits for not recognizing redefined marriage.”

Minnesota for Marriage’s Facebook page contains similar posts. “We know we (and many of YOU!) have been accused of ‘fear-mongering’ by letting people know that businessmen and businesswomen of faith stand to be fined for their belief that marriage is only between 1 man and 1 woman under the gay ‘marriage’ law,” one states.

“Turns out that our fears were indeed based in fact. The MN Dept. of Human Rights has now issued their memo on the gay ‘marriage’ law that outlines how the religious convictions of our MN business owners have no place in the public square anymore.”

Unless one clicks through to the rules from either post, it’s completely unclear that the item in question doesn’t name a single person or business, much less threaten consequences. The web pages on the other end of the link contain guidance from the state agency on compliance with the state’s 20-year-old anti-discrimination statute.

They also contain plain-English explanations of the religious-freedom exemptions in state law that say churches and other faith communities are not obligated to perform any wedding that violates their beliefs.

“The new law provides specific exemptions for religious entities from taking part in the solemnization of same-sex marriages,” the site explains. “Therefore, a religious entity may choose not to marry a same sex couple as it has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine, policy, teachings and beliefs regarding who may marry within that faith.”

“We view it as a violation of the constitution to dictate to a church who it should or should not marry,” said Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey.

Difference in laws

While his department has not heard much concern about the new marriage law, Lindsey said he did spend time explaining the difference between it and existing human rights statutes before last fall’s vote on a proposed state LGBT marriage ban. Minnesota has prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation since 1993.

“The law does not exempt individuals, businesses, nonprofits, or the secular business activities of religious entities from non-discrimination laws based on religious beliefs regarding same-sex marriage,” the Human Rights Department website further explains.

“Therefore, a business that provides wedding services such as cake decorating, wedding planning or catering services may not deny services to a same-sex couple who is planning a wedding based on their sexual orientation.”

Indeed, Minnesota’s existing human rights laws go further than any other state’s in terms of insuring religious freedoms. Religious organizations such as Catholic Charities and parochial schools are exempt from complying with the laws in realms like the provision of adoption or social services so long as they do not use public funds.

“What we’re really trying to convey is that if you are a business on Main Street and people look at you and think of you as a flower shop or a bakery, and they don’t really think of you as a mosque or a synagogue, you don’t have the right to discriminate,” said Lindsey.

Nor is there evidence that an avalanche of lawsuits is to be expected.  University of Minnesota Law School Professor Dale Carpenter has written that in those states where gay marriage has been legal very few discrimination complaints have been filed.

“And the number of these conflicts in which the state's formal legal recognition of the gay couple determined the outcome is ... zero,” he noted in a commentary published by the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “The number of cases in which a gay couple's marriage provided them a cause of action they wouldn't have previously had is ... zero.

“The number of cases in which the existence of a gay marriage or civil union defeated an otherwise meritorious religious-exemption claim is ... zero. In short, after 10 years of same-sex marriage in the U.S., there is not a single case whose outcome turned on whether the complaining person or couple was married.”

Does Lindsey expect Minnesota to be an exception? “I was only 2 years old when Loving v. Virginia came down,” he said. “My sense is that while there were certainly some businesses that threw their arms open to interracial couples, there were many that didn’t.”

Times seem to have changed, he continued. “I do think it’s significant that you have the mayor of Minneapolis offering to officiate at weddings and there are businesses offering to give their space away for free.”

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Comments (8)

So Our "Conservative" "Christian"

friends and neighbors, who are SO convinced that they, themselves, know the mind of God,...

and yet steadfastly ignore the attitudes, actions, teachings and ministry of Jesus,...

presumably having zero interest in what Jesus the MAN did while following the guidance of the Holy Spirit as he walked among his fellow humans,...

but only wanting to worship him as "Christ," now that he's safely far, far away in heaven,...

while presuming that God has retired and is now playing golf in some celestial equivalent to Palm Springs,...

having left the rule of the universe to the gloriously crowned "Messiah," (none of which has any basis in Biblical Scripture),...

nevertheless, feel that the parts of the Hebrew law that Jesus seems to have cast aside, "you have heard it said, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but I say love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,"...

must certainly be followed to the letter (but, of course, only the parts that they can use to criticize and condemn those whom they've been taught to believe are doing icky things),...

while they ignore the parts that Jesus NEVER sought to cast aside, among them the Ten Commandment's requirement,...

"you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."

That these folks are willing to "bear false witness," to LIE to try to win the public to their side is a testament to how far from God and from the teachings of Jesus they are,...

and how completely, absolutely, uniquivocally, secular and HUMAN is their perspective on gay marriage (and a large number of other things, as well).

A slippery slope

I always get nervous when the government makes comments such as these

“What we’re really trying to convey is that if you are a business on Main Street and people look at you and think of you as a flower shop or a bakery, and they don’t really think of you as a mosque or a synagogue, you don’t have the right to discriminate,”

I own a business. And I do pick and choose both the suppliers and customers I work with. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc. But in many ways, my choice is based on the business ethics and human resource practices that the suppliers and customers exhibit.

Am I guilty of some form of discrimination because I stopped doing work for a certain customer after I saw him treat a few of his/her employees in a way that I did not approve of? I readily admit - the customer met all his business obligations (delivery, payment, etc). But I strongly believe in treating employees fairly, justly and with dignity. This customer was not so much into that - far more of a bottom line - I am the boss type of person. So I chose to stop taking their work - it is now being done by a competitor of mine. I am OK with that - there are more customers to out there for me to try and get.

But is it ok for me to make that choice? Because, quite frankly, what I chose to do in my situation(s) and the example given in the story about the baker are not that fundamental dissimilar. Strong personal convictions caused us to make a business choice on who we work with as suppliers and customers.

(Though frankly - I did nothing to bad mouth my customer either before or after. I just said that I did not see us being the right relationship and left it at that which contrasts sharply with the baker who seems to have chosen to add quite a bit of extra moral commentary. Is it possible that if the baker politely refused and just stopped at that maybe there is no Human Rights Commission issue?)

I am interested in hearing peoples views on this - and not just focused on the gay marriage issue - but the general obligation of business to do serve any and all customers verse any rights a business may / should have to pick and choose their suppliers and customers.

Tim, I respect your decision with that customer

Your situation sounds like more of a business to business decision and since that customer didn't fall into any of the "protected" classes you were free to make that decision. I think the general aim of these laws is to deal with businesses that deal with the public at large. If you generally sell burgers to anyone then you have to serve members of the protected class. Of course not all cases are so cut and dried as there are more complex cases of business-client relationships. And not to say you can't deny a member of a protected class, but your reasons can get an extra level of scrutiny if things go to court. My understanding anyway.

In other words:

Silly Christians! You're not going to be prosecuted under the *marriage* law; you're going to be prosecuted under the *civil rights* law!

Or as The American Conservative's Rod Dreher puts it: “It’s a complete absurdity to believe that Christians will suffer a single thing from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.”

This site, sad to say, seems determined to turn into the left's mirror image of RedState. It had a lot of promise in the beginning. Oh well.

Not as slippery as you might think

I appreciate your thoughtful concerns, but I am confident that a bright line can be drawn between unlawfully discriminating against someone because of their faith, race, sexual orientation or gender, which has little to do with their qualities as a person or business, and lawfully deciding not to do business with someone because of your particular experience in working with that individual person or business for reasons unrelated to their immutable characteristics.

Having said all of that, in the instant case of marriage equality, while I am in complete agreement with Professor Carpenter that Minnesota's revised marriage statute does not create any new rights for gay couples and though I appreciate that there are absolutely bakers and photographers, etc. out there who will unlawfully discriminate, I hope that couples, whenever possible just ignore them and instead avail themselves to the many more businesses who want to work with you to create a joyous wedding celebration.

I say this not because I think for one second that such discrimination is right, but because to sue under Minnesota’s Human Rights Law would allow the opponents of marriage equality to claim a status as victims or martyrs which they do not deserve, but will eagerly grab if we let them. With respect, however, to the extension of health care and other benefits which all married couples are entitled to, here litigation would sadly be necessary in the case of unlawful discrimination as far more financially is at stake for the couple AND going out and finding a new job with an employer that will respect the law is a difference in kind, and not degree, more difficult than just hiring a baker who will graciously bake you a cake. The same logic applies when it comes to adoption, medical care and other services which are more important and there is likely to be less choice for alternatives.

Bigotry is bigotry

Sexual bigots, like economic bigots, racial bigots, and just about all the other categories of bigotry I could think of off the top of my head, will use any mechanism available to support their particular brand of prejudice. I think Ethan Roberts has nailed it: taking such ignorant people to court will merely enshrine them in the minds of fellow-bigots as martyrs, and they absolutely do not deserve that status.

Sin

It is bad enough that homosexuals want to muddy the meaning of marriage but now they are out to persecute businesses that dare to stand by their own beliefs. It has been claimed that no one is trying to force their lifestyle on others but that is a lie. How long until it is legal for pedophiles to have sex with or marry children? When will you start to fight for the right of people who want to have sex with animals? If people want to live in sin, that is their choice, but stop trying to force others to believe that a sin is not a sin. I do not care if you practice homosexuality or pedophilia or are straight and having sex outside the confines of marriage. It is all sin just as lying, stealing, killing etc. is a sin. People have urges to do all sorts of things but that does not mean they cannot help themselves. No matter what the urge, people make a conscious decision to engage in sin. I sin more than I like and that is mine to deal with. I do not try to force others to say that is ok and I wish others would extend the same courtesy.

Outrageous, not "conservative"

lets see it seems that you take the most extreme positions and insult gay people, comparing them to murders, pedos etc etc

We should extend you courtesy - your one of those haters of the extreme right, totally ignoring Jesus commandment to love thy neighbor

Conservatives should be glad that gays want to support the instituion of two loving people under civil law. They should be raging mad about the str8s wrecking it with a national 53% divorce rate as well as the 30+ % of american children growng up with only one parent

Doesnt work that way however when you are blinded by ultra hatred - that is your sin and you should repent and be ashamed

You remind me of 196 (the year I got married.) conservatives went ape droppngs about the trashing of bans on inter-racial marriage, same sort of baloney you put up, along with trash like "we cant continue to support the sanctity of the white race

Bye now - dont like gays marrying dont marry one