As all eyes are on Illinois to vote on marriage equality before the week is out, a Christian law firm has issued new demands for the right to discriminate against same-sex couples. According to Thomas Brejcha and Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society, the proposed bill has the “worst religious liberty protection of any same-sex marriage bill in the country.”
This is a moot point, because some states didn’t even pass a marriage equality bill to have any religious protections. States where Supreme Courts made the final decision like Iowa and Massachusetts have not had any of the problems Brejcha and Breen speak of. Besides, what they define as “religious liberty” is a blatant privilege to refuse service to people because of their sexual orientation in violation of pre-existing nondiscrimination laws.
The Illinois bill already includes protections such that religious organizations will not have to perform or host same-sex weddings, but Brejcha and Breen imagine a society where hospitals and schools can just blatantly ignore the law. They cite the infamous example of a New Jersey church-owned pavilion that lost its tax exemption for refusing to host a civil unions ceremony, even though the case had nothing to do with its religious protections. They go on to suggest that Christian business owners will have to “surrender their livelihoods” if they can’t discriminate:
SB 10 provides no protections for individuals who make their living by providing goods and services for the celebration of weddings, such as cake bakers, florists, and venue owners. Under SB 10, people of faith running these businesses would be faced with the choice of either closing their business or facilitating a ceremony that violates their religious beliefs. Already, a downstate bed & breakfast owner has been dragged before the Illinois Human Rights Commission to defend its decision not to host same-sex civil unions. In New Mexico, a Christian photographer has been forced to appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court for expressing her religious liberty to decline to participate in a lesbian commitment ceremony. SB 10 is also silent on the plight of professionals such as doctors, social workers, and counselors who object to same-sex marriage – will they be forced to violate their consciences or have their licenses revoked?
The most important thing to remember about this offensive ruse is that there are no religious protections that could be added to this bill that would actually change whether conservative groups like the Thomas More Society supports the marriage equality bill. Illinois Catholic Bishop Thomas Paprocki made this quite clear back in January. These are the claims of individuals who already fear losing the fight and are seeking every carve-out possible to allow them to continue treating the gay community as second-class citizens.