Bills to redefine marriage raise concerns about religious liberty protections

| Susan Klemond | May 8, 2013 | 0 Comments

Proposed religious liberty exemptions to Minnesota same-sex marriage legislation don’t provide adequate conscience protection, ac­cording to a panel of legal experts, faith and business leaders and others speaking at a May 6 press conference at the State Capitol.

If the legislation becomes law many individuals and businesses with conscience objections could face some of the legal and personal consequences experienced by residents of New York and other states that have legalized same-sex marriage, they said.

Bills in the House and Senate, which would strike down the state’s current definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, is likely to reach the floor of both chambers before the session ends later this month.

The legislation offers exemptions for non-profit religious associations, religious corporations, or religious societies but not businesses with more than five employees, religious schools or other organizations, such as charities, which aren’t operated or supervised by religious associations, corporations or societies.

“We were told that the marriage debate was about expanding freedom, but we can see today by the conscience exemption in this proposal it’s about restricting freedom,” said Teresa Collett, a University of St. Thomas law professor. “Restricting freedom for all the Minnesotans who continue to believe that children need a mom and a dad and that marriage should remain defined as the union of one man and one woman.”

Gay rights activists “told Minnesotans of faith not to worry, that the gay ‘marriage’ bill had aggressive religious protections,’ though the facts clearly don’t support this claim, as our guests today testified,” said Autumn Leva, Minnesota for Marriage director of governmental affairs and communications.

Consequences felt in New York

At the press conference, New York State business owners and municipal employees told how they felt forced to quit their jobs, were charged with human rights violations and were harassed for refusing to be involved in same-sex weddings after their state’s legislature enacted same-sex marriage in 2011.

“In New York we were promised that the religious freedom amendment to our same-sex ‘marriage’ legislation would do the job,” said the Rev. Jason McGuire, president of New York’s Family Research Foundation.

“There is no protection in New York law that did not already exist prior to the bill’s passage,” he said. “But after gay ‘marriage’ was enacted, clerks are out of work and business owners are facing human rights complaints. That’s the reality we are living today.”

Laura Fotusky of Barker, N.Y., said she resigned as town clerk because the job required that she sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples, which went against her Christian faith.

“For all the talk of tolerance, there was none for my deeply held religious beliefs”  she said. “I’m hopeful that Minnesota legislators will consider my story as they consider their position regarding gay marriage in the remaining days of the legislative session.”

Paul Gavic, co-owner of the Minneapolis plumbing company Noah Acquisitions is concerned that if the bill passes, he’ll be required to go against his Christian faith and pay same-sex domestic partner benefits for his 48 employees. A proposed exemption covers only employers with five or fewer employees, he said.

“My business and businesses like mine cannot afford the lie that the state can redefine marriage and also protect religious liberties.”

Impromptu rally

Along with the speakers, about 75 individuals and families, many of them from three Twin Cities Hispanic evangelical churches, staged an impromptu rally outside the meeting room.

Lilian Romero, a member of Maranatha Asamblea de Dios in Minneapolis came with her daughter.

“It’s easy to pass a law and say, well everybody do whatever they want,” she said. “We don’t [realize] that there might be a consequence.”

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