Maryland state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D) has penned a column for the Washington Post in which he tries to drum up fears about the consequences of approving Question 6, upholding the state’s marriage equality law. His primary complaint is that people opposed to the freedom to marry will have to function at a most basic level with same-sex couples by not discriminating against them:
As has happened in other states, individuals — such as an innkeeper in Vermont or a wedding photographer in New Mexico — who decline to assist with celebrating unions contrary to their beliefs could face fines, lawsuits and infringements on their business. If Question 6 passes, there will be no legal protection for individuals, business owners and the everyday citizens of Maryland if their deeply held beliefs about marriage come into conflict with state law.
As for protections for religious institutions, voters need to know that the ballot language omits a significant piece of the law — the provision that takes away any such protection if the religious organization conducts social, educational or medical services under a contract with government and receives state or federal funds.
Further, the ballot language includes wording that is not part of the law. The question states that religious organizations do not have to provide “benefits” in violation of their beliefs. But the word “benefits” does not appear in the law. In fact, my colleagues in the Maryland Senate rejected an amendment to include the word “benefits.” In reality, the law provides no protection to religious organizations whose tenets would be violated by providing employment benefits to gay and lesbian married couples.
First of all, the two cases Muse cites both address nondiscrimination laws, not marriage equality. Though the innkeepers in Vermont are now portraying themselves as victims, they admitted that they broke the law in the court settlement. Courts have similarly ruled against the photographer in New Mexico, where same-sex marriage isn’t even legal. After losing in the state Court of Appeals in June, Elane Photography has appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court. Any individual operating a business open to the public is bound by a state’s laws not to discriminate based on sexual orientation — laws Maryland already has. It’s just as illegal to refuse to host a same-sex commitment ceremony today as it will be if voters approve Question 6 next month or when marriage equality takes effect in January.
As for the rest of his arguments, Muse believes that religion should be a sufficient legal excuse to blatantly discriminate against same-sex couples. If he had his way, even if same-sex marriage were legal, anybody who wanted to could just ignore those unions under law without consequence, whether it’s a business refusing health benefit coverage to a same-sex spouse or a Catholic-run hospital that doesn’t allow a same-sex spouse to make medical decisions. He is attempting to paint bigots as victims, without any recognition for how those actions might harm same-sex families and their children. Of course, the National Organization for Marriage has no problem promoting this argument.
It’s worth noting that Muse is himself a minister, though apparently not a very responsible one. Despite his 2,000 members, his church has gone bankrupt on two different occasions, including this past June. Though he is entitled to both his religious views and practices, it is unfortunate that they cloud his ability to appreciate what would be in the best interest of his constituents.