Monday, June 29, 2015

False Fear from the Anti-Homosexuals Among Us

Immediately in the wake of the mainstream rejoicing regarding the Supreme Court's ruling in support of homosexual unions, came multiple articles from the Catholic Church, certain protestants, and some of the Orthodox Jews in our American Jewish Community.

The united fear expressed by these articles  is that those who are religiously opposed to homosexuality may be forced to support and serve active homosexuality.  The questions raised have included,

(1) Must someone working in town hall provide a marriage license if it is against their religion to do so?
(2) Must a catering hall or florist accept a contract for a homosexual couple's wedding celebration?
(3) Does a therapist put themselves at risk of a civil rights law suit by counseling that homosexuality is both deviant and curable?

There are two simple principles here, and two compelling analogies.

When working in a public office, one represents and administers the laws and directives of the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the Supreme Court. There is no freedom of conscience for a town clerk to withhold any service of the government based on their own personal convictions. That is illegal and morally wrong. Such a person should be removed from that office if they will not comply. This, however, also extends to services generally offered to the public, such as educational, retail or financial services, etc. General public services may not be withheld under the phrase, "we don't serve your kind here."

When operating as a private religious institution, the protection of religious rights and freedoms are paramount, and bias is not only legal - but essential in some form. Similarly, the right to assemble can be for any peaceful purpose. And finally, the right to free speech allows for the proclamation and distribution of those ideas.  The whole point of religious freedom is to protect the right to believe anything, and to form social groups whose purpose is to peacefully explore, celebrate and act upon those beliefs.  Catholics do not have to give communion to protestants. Jews do not have to count non-Jews in minyan prayer quorums. The Ku Klux Klan does not need at accept people with dark skin into their society. The Supreme Court has specifically asserted that these rights are still protected for those who believe as a matter of faith that homosexuality is a moral sin.

Imagine a town clerk refusing to issue a marriage license to a Jewish woman who had converted to Judaism with a Reform rabbi. Only in Israel would someone think that might be tolerable, though they too are wrong.  But in America it would not be allowed ever. Imagine a kosher restaurant refusing to serve an intermarried couple. Imagine a Jewish University refusing admission to someone who eats treife.  Intolerable, of course. Government and public services have been made available by the pious to the sinners in the country for years. And even if I don't believe these to be sins, I respect that others do. But they have no right to withhold generally available public services on the basis of that bias.

Yet a church, a pastor, a synagogue, or a rabbi are NOT forced, in any way, to support or engage any activity which is contrary to their religion, when acting as a church, pastor, synagogue or rabbi.  I do not have to rent my synagogue for forbidden activities, nor do I have to rent my synagogue for permitted activities.  There is nothing wrong with Christians observing Christianity.  But my synagogue may choose NOT to rent the social hall for an Easter service for a church that needs an overflow location.  Then again, we might. But we have the right, because it is a religious issue, to decide to apply a bias, even if our social hall is generally available to the public to rent.

 In Conclusion: Homosexuality has been determined by the court to be a civil right, and society will be held accountable to the equal treatment of homosexual citizens under the law.  As with gender and race, no person may say that their religion is a basis for bias in the public sphere.  Nevertheless, individual rights to privacy, religion, speech, assembly, etc., all protect those who disagree with the ruling to hold and act upon those beliefs in the private and religious spheres. Denying services on the basis of sexual orientation is no different than segregating the lunch counter, or denying university admission to women.

The next time someone asks one of these questions about "homosexuals," you might want to substitute the word "black,"  "Christian," or "woman," and see how it sounds to you.  When properly framed, the questions answer themselves.

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