Ever since the US Supreme Court ruled that state laws banning marriages were unconstitutional, opponents have shifted their tactics. We have seen the emergence of evangelical Christian claims that they need to protect ‘religious liberty’ and this tactic is being used as a wedge to allow religious people to freely discriminate against those of whom they disapprove, which usually means the LGBT community and those in same-sex marriages.
It is interesting how it is precisely those people who are in the majority religious community in a country and receive a vast amount of deference from the state and all manner of benefits (such as Christians in the US, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Muslims in Pakistan) who claim the most loudly that they are the ones being targeted for discrimination. These people are shameless.
In Ohio, we now have the state legislature debating House Bill 286 that has the official short title of “Religious-not required to solemnize marriages-if object for religious reason” but is unofficially called “Ohio Pastor Protection Act” where the preamble gives the stated purpose:
To amend section 3101.08 of the Revised Code to provide that an ordained or licensed minister or religious society is not required to solemnize a marriage and a religious society is not required to allow any building or property of the religious society to be used to host a marriage ceremony if the marriage does not conform to the ordained or licensed minister’s or religious society’s sincerely held religious beliefs, to provide that an ordained or licensed minister or religious society is not subject to civil or criminal liability for such a denial, and to provide that the state and political subdivisions may not penalize or withhold benefits to an ordained or licensed minister or religious society for such a denial.
Critics of the bill have pointed out that the protections being sought already exist in law and is a ‘solution’ for a non-existent problem.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Nino Vitale, said the legislation is needed to “stop a war in Ohio” after a U.S. Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage. Two dozen pastors testified earlier this year in support of the bill.
Opponents, including other pastors and LGBT advocates, say the bill is unnecessary because those actions are already protected under the First Amendment. Instead, they say, the bill sends an anti-LGBT message.
“This legislation would send a message to same-sex couples that they are somehow a threat, against which protection is necessary,” Rev. Ian R. Lynch told lawmakers Tuesday. “Why would the Ohio legislature choose to go out of its way to send that sort of message? If there is a concern for protection, perhaps it should be protecting the reputation of the state as a place where all are welcome.”
The point of such bills is to create a wedge. If it passes and sustains a legal challenge, then there will be further expansion of the right to discriminate, say for businesses and renters to discriminate and so on. It is similar to what is happening in the abortion debate. Anti-choice groups are seeking to gut the legal status given under Roe v. Wade by making it harder for such services to be provided.
The good news is that time is running out before the legislative session ends on December 8 and if HB 286 is not passed by then in both houses, it will have to be reintroduced in the next session. The senate president and the governor, both Republicans, do not seem to be anxious to revisit this particular battle, perhaps sensing that being anti-LGBT is an increasingly unpopular position.
If the bill fails, anti-gay bigoted pastors have to face the prospect of living through the Christmas holidays in fear of the non-existent threat of having to perform same-sex marriages. Oh, the horror!