CREDIT: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
When Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed the Arizona bill that would have created a license to discriminate against LGBT people under a guise of “religious liberty,” it seemed like a victory and the end of the argument in the state. Unfortunately, another bill is still under consideration in the Arizona legislature that creates a different kind of anti-gay license to discriminate.
House Bill 2481, which is awaiting consideration by the full House of Representatives after passing out of committee, purports to protect ministers from having to officiate weddings they don’t believe in. This seems to anticipate the arrival of marriage equality across all 50 states from a court decision in the not-too-far future. In no state have religious leaders or organizations ever been forced to violate their religious practices in observance of a same-sex wedding, so the bill seems largely benign and unnecessary.
Where the problem arises is how the law defines “minister.” Rather than just its standard definition of religious official, this bill expands it to mean anybody who can officiate a wedding:
“Minister” means an individual who is authorized to solemnize a marriage pursuant to Section 25-124. [...]
Government may not require a minister to solemnize a marriage that is inconsistent with the minister’s sincerely held religious beliefs.
This would mean that judges, justices of the peace, and county clerks could exercise the same privilege of refusing to officiate a same-sex marriage. Though this bill would only have an effect in the hypothetical future when marriage equality arrives in Arizona, its effect in that scenario would be incredibly problematic. The state only has 15 counties, so it’s not inconceivable that if even if only one of those county clerks refused same-sex couples, it would create a significant burden for those couples, who would then have to travel to a different county just to exercise their own right to marry.
As for judges, they can already refuse to perform marriages, though in jurisdictions where nondiscrimination protections are in effect, they must do so uniformly. In New Mexico, for example, two judges have ceased officiating any marriages so that they do not have to officiate same-sex marriages.
Religious leaders have a duty to uphold the religious tenets of their ministries, but state officials have a duty to uphold state law. HB 2481 would allow them to refuse to do their jobs for the sole purpose of discriminating against same-sex couples, imposing their religious beliefs on others.