New Hampshire has passed a law that establishes marriage equality within its borders, legalizing same-sex marriage. I’m glad for that, but there’s a small, bitter corner of this victory that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
The governor of New Hampshire would only agree to sign the bill into law if an exemption granting churches the right to deny the legal validity of their employees’ same-sex marriages. In New Hampshire, a same-sex couple can get married, but if one of them works for a church, it will be as if their marriage doesn’t exist.
Creating a special exemption for churches, to allow them to remain as sanctuaries of discrimination and bigotry, is a nasty thing to do, but I suppose I can see the constitutional justification of it. There is, according to the First Amendment, supposed to be freedom of religion. I understand how that freedom can be interpreted to apply, not just to individual choice of religious identity, but also to the organizational powers of churches.
However, if we in the United States are now to adopt the idea that religious organizations have the same rights as individuals, and that churches can therefore do whatever they want without interference by the government, let’s be consistent in the application of this principle. If a church wants to set up a casino, let’s not interfere. If a church wants to keep slaves, let’s allow it. If a church stones women to death for adultery, let’s not prosecute. When a church helps its priests sexually molest thousands of children, let’s look the other way. If churches want to kidnap people and hold them in captivity in church basements, who are we to say no? It’s religious liberty.
The alternative is to hold that individuals have First Amendment religious liberty, but that religious organizations need to follow the same laws that apply to everyone else. That, clearly, is unacceptable.