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Washington Passes Marriage Equality Law

The Washington House of Representatives has followed the state Senate and passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in that state, which Gov. Chris Gregoire has pledged to sign. The bill also contains very strong protections for religious organizations:

No state agency or local government may base a decision to penalize, withhold benefits from, license, or refuse to contract with any religious organization based on the opposition to or refusal to provide accommodations, facilities, advantages, privileges, service, or goods related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.

No religiously affiliated educational institution shall be required to provide accommodations, facilities, advantages, privileges, service, or goods related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage, including a use of any campus chapel or church. A religiously affiliated educational institution shall be immune from a civil claim or cause of action, including a claim … based on its refusal to provide accommodations, facilities, advantages, privileges, service, or goods related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage under this subsection shall be immune for civil claim or cause of action…

“Religious organization” as defined in this chapter must be interpreted liberally to include faith-based social service organizations involved in social services directed at the larger community.

And in another section:

“Religious organization” includes, but is not limited to, churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, nondenominational ministries, interdenominational and ecumenical organizations, mission organizations, faith-based social agencies, and other entities whose principal purpose is the study, practice, or advancement of religion.

So it does not appear that this protects businesses owned by people with religious objections, unless the principal purpose of the business is religious, but I don’t know if other state laws would apply in such situations or not. It also does not appear to apply to government officials refusing to issue licenses, which I would imagine — and hope — is still a violation of someone’s civil rights. It’s one thing to say that a florist or a wedding photographer is not required to provide services to a same-sex wedding; it’s quite another to say that a government official, like a clerk, doesn’t have to treat people equally.

Comments

  1. mishcakes says

    So basically, by law, religious institutions get to remain bigoted, hateful and discriminatory, while the rest of the world moves on. And they celebrate this. Gross.

  2. Robert B. says

    I also note that every religious protection line specifies the “celebration and solemnization” of a marriage. So in other words, Washington religious organizations don’t have to have anything to do with gay weddings if they don’t have to. (Even if the “religious organization” is a church-run hospital or food bank, apparently.) But unless you’ve omitted to quote it, Ed, there’s nothing that says these groups don’t have to treat fairly with gay married couples after they’ve tied the knot – a religious hospital still has to give a gay man’s husband full spousal rights, for example.

  3. Uncle Glenny says

    “Religious organization” as defined in this chapter must be interpreted liberally to include faith-based social service organizations involved in social services directed at the larger community.

    But would this have covered, for instance Catholic Charities (or whatever it was that provided adoption services but folded up shop rather than offer services to gay couples)?

  4. RW Ahrens says

    It also appears to relate specifically to the marriage ceremony and accompanying “…accommodations, facilities, advantages, privileges, service, or goods related to the solemnization or celebration of…” the same.

    Not to refusing to recognize the marriage once performed. This is proper, as it saves religious institutions from being asked to actually perform such marriages, which give the lie to the Prop 8 proponents’ allegations that churches would be forced to perform same sex marriages!

  5. RickR says

    mishcakes- yes they do, and yes it is.

    All of those exemptions that must be explicitly written into the law (things already guaranteed by the First Amendment) just shows how effective conservative christianity has been at putting out false messages about religious freedom in this country.

    Poor oppressed minority/majority that they are.

  6. exdrone says

    which Gov. Chris Gregoire has pledged to sign

    Ed,
    I hope that “pledge” was just a casual word choice on your part. I can accept him indicating that he would sign the bill, but I hope that pledging is restricted to politicians who kowtow to tea-baggers and fundies.

  7. Michael Heath says

    mishcakes:

    So basically, by law, religious institutions get to remain bigoted, hateful and discriminatory, while the rest of the world moves on. And they celebrate this. Gross.

    I’d argue this small tactical victory for conservatives is an enormous strategic blunder. Equal rights for gays, and not merely societal tolerance but instead full acceptance, is inevitable. All this does is insure the bigots numbers and influence will decrease even more quickly because their bigotry will be more visible and more easily targeted by non-bigots. It will hasten the bigots demise.

    In the narrow terms of partisan politics, it’s nice to see conservatives act in stupid ways given liberals propensity to snatch partisan defeat out of the jaws of victory. [This is based on my assumption American conservatism is incapable for reform therefore I yearn for them to quickly fade into obscurity supplanted by a sane competent right wing ideology.]

  8. spamamander, hellmart survivor says

    @ 6

    Her. Governor Gregoire is a woman. An easy mistake with a gender-neutral name (even a bit ‘masculine’, I rarely hear her referred to as Chris, but Christine), but evidence that most of us (including me!) tend to still immediately associate higher office with male.

    Just a bit of a pet peeve of mine, since we have some excellent women representing the state of Washington, including Governor Gregoire, Senator Patty Murray, and Senator Maria Cantwell.

  9. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    (things already guaranteed by the First Amendment)

    I wonder if the exemptions in this case don’t go beyond the 1st Amendment. For example, I seem to recall a case* where a church that rented facilities to the public for wedding receptions was sued when it denied rental to a lesbian couple, on the ground that the space was a public accommodation and as such (at least by the plaintiffs’ argument) wasn’t covered by the 1st Amendment’s religion clauses. However, it seems to me (NAL) that the inclusion of the words “facilities” and “celebration” (as opposed to just “solemnization”) is intended to protect churches in just such a case.

    ——————
    *I have limited time for Googling just at the moment or I’d look up the reference.

  10. Chiroptera says

    You French Revolutionary Obamafascists are missing the point!

    Christians will be forced to live in the same state as married gay people!

    Oh, when will this persecution of Christians ever end?

  11. says

    It’s one thing to say that a florist or a wedding photographer is not required to provide services to a same-sex wedding; it’s quite another to say that a government official, like a clerk, doesn’t have to treat people equally.

    I imagine that no wedding photographer or florist who actually wants to stay in business will be stupid enough not to cater to gay weddings. These guys must be salivating right now. This is one of those rare cases where I think you can let the market end the discrimination for you.

  12. MikeMa says

    @Area Man,
    I believe you are correct about the market fixing any issues in this case but there have been a number of high profile, low brainpower counter examples. A wedding dress shop in Somers Point, NJ refused to sell a dress to a woman contemplating marriage to her mate in NY (I think). The shop was inundated with both ridicule and support but in a retail business, turning away customers and alienating others is almost always a bad idea.

    The owner may have broken a NJ law by discriminating but I’ve seen no followup on this.

  13. The Lorax says

    First off, Area Man, that’s a really good point. If you legalize gay marriage, that means a LOT more people are going to get married, and right soon. That means a LOT of money flowing into the hands of caterers, florists, wedding planners, photographers, the list goes on and on. Weddings can run for thousands to tens of thousands of dollars on average. That’s a very nice piece of pie.

    More to the point, I actually like the language of this bill. I may be reading it wrong, but it seems to say, “This is legal now, but you religious institutions don’t have to worry about it, since we won’t force you to take part.” In one swift stroke, it legalizes something that all people should have by right, and points out the bigotry in the people trying to deny it, AND gives them zero room to complain.

    Well done, Washington! You guys, gals, and those who do not adhere to the gender binary bring a tear of joy to my eye.

  14. matty1 says

    @11 My (admittedly vague) recollection was that the church as landowner was getting a tax break from the local government that was conditional on everyone having an equal opportunity to rent the building. They broke that condition and got sued for doing so. That they were a church or that the people they denied were lesbians was not relevant to the legal arguments though a lot of commentators thought it should be.

  15. Chiroptera says

    matty1, #16:

    The case was in Ocean Grove in New Jersey.

    There is (or was) a program where private property owners can get tax breaks and public funds for maintenance if they allow “public use” for their property. And the church in question allowed a pavillion on property they own to be open to the public for weddings under the provisions of this law.

    When they denied a gay couple to solemnize their civil union there, they were sued because a public facility isn’t allowed to discriminate against gay people.

  16. shoeguy says

    In celebration would everyone ,for three days, refer to Washington without the “state” suffix. There is a city in the District of Columbia with the same name, but when referring to our state just Washington will do.

    YEAH GOV CHRIS! YEAH LEGISLATURE!

  17. Aquaria says

    Hooray for Washington!

    However, the battle isn’t entirely won. It looks like Washington will walk into the same buzzsaw as California did with Prop 8.

    Funny, does anyone remember the conservatards pushing for public referenda to strip African-Americans of rights back in the day?

    Oh, right–that’s because the federal government intervened and told the bigots to sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up.

    I’m afraid that’s what it will take for gay marriage to finally stop being put to votes by bigoted assholes.

  18. says

    “In celebration would everyone ,for three days, refer to Washington without the “state” suffix.”

    I got curious as to why they were dumb enough to name the state after the nation’s capital, with all the confusion that would cause, so I looked it up on Wikipedia:

    The area was originally called “Columbia” after the Columbia River; however, to avoid confusion with the District of Columbia, the area was renamed Washington.

    FAIL.

  19. Rip Steakface says

    Hooray for Washington!

    However, the battle isn’t entirely won. It looks like Washington will walk into the same buzzsaw as California did with Prop 8.

    Funny, does anyone remember the conservatards pushing for public referenda to strip African-Americans of rights back in the day?

    Oh, right–that’s because the federal government intervened and told the bigots to sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up.

    I’m afraid that’s what it will take for gay marriage to finally stop being put to votes by bigoted assholes.

    I live in Washington. The most distinctive part of our state politics is that the eastern half – east of the Cascade mountain range – is much less populous and much more conservative. The western half has more of the population and is far more liberal.

    Given that information, the inevitable referendum in November will probably go for the side of equality. Considering that I’ve already convinced my 18-year-old Mormon friend to vote for marriage equality in November… yeah, I think we’re going to be okay.

  20. vmanis1 says

    I support putting in all that verbiage about religious institutions, but it is in fact completely unnecessary. `Freedom of religion’ has been interpreted for a long time to mean that a religious congregation or institution has an absolute right to define what behavior is required of members, and to determine who may marry.

    Thus when Roman Catholic divines run about bloviating about how marriage equality, or even nondiscrimination legislation will force them to conduct or recognize same-sex marriages, they are spouting nonsense. The RC church does not recognize remarriage of divorced people not named Newt Gingrich (he got away with it by converting between wife #2 and #3), and no legislation relating to nondiscrimination on the basis of marital status would ever be seen as applicable.

    Having said that, the unnecessary language does actually protect those institutions from frivolous lawsuits, But more importantly, it takes the wind out of the sails of the anti-equality forces, who try to claim that marriage equality infringes their rights. So, nugatory or not, it is still worth including.

    I am too tired to do research just now, so I will simply assert that both the Canadian marriage equality legislation and some of the US legislation (New York?) have similar protections in them. In time, these clauses will come to seem silly and archaic, but they are politically expedient right now.

  21. spamamander, hellmart survivor says

    @ 21

    I figure maybe we could hold some kind of Mormon/ Catholic BBQ around election time, something that includes shooting animals and big 4×4’s in the mud? If we keep the people here on the east side busy maybe they’ll forget to mail their ballots…

  22. The Lorax says

    @22,

    You’re right. I even read somewhere that the Catholic church has the right to nullify any marriage if the couple is unable to bear children. I would go so far as to say “unwilling” counts as “unable”, and I know quite a few people who are either unable or unwilling to have kids. According to law, they are perfectly within their rights, according to Catholic law, to nullify their marriage without any consequence. Marriage is only sacred if you’re popping out puppies, apparently.

    However, history has shown us that religious people don’t give a damn what their own rules are. They will twist and warp and invent and claim anything that makes them feel better. So yes, that language is wholly necessary, because it nullifies their arguments. Or, a few of them at least. They now cannot say anything about the sanctity of marriage, because they will not be forced to bother with any same-sex marriages and thus same-sex marriages will in no way be subject to their guidelines or approval. And yes, that should be covered by the First Amendment, but again, they warp that for their own uses. So it is necessary to state it quite plainly if you wish to quell the inevitable frothing.

    Personally, I like the language. It shows that the lawmakers are listening to the arguments, and coming up with quite clever solutions to guarantee human rights whilst at the same time shutting up the people trying to remove them. It’s smart, and I respect that… even if it means adding a bunch of extra words that ideally shouldn’t be needed.

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