The Connecticut same-sex marriage bill passed overwhelmingly by the state legislature last night includes several provisions addressing concerns of religious-liberty advocates. Among them are these:
Sec. 501. (NEW) (Effective from passage) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges to an individual if the request for such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges is related to the solemnization of a marriage or celebration of a marriage and such solemnization or celebration is in violation of their religious beliefs and faith. Any refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges in accordance with this section shall not create any civil claim or cause of action, or result in any state action to penalize or withhold benefits from such religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society.
Sec. 502. (NEW) (Effective from passage) The marriage laws of this state shall not be construed to affect the ability of a fraternal benefit society to determine the admission of members as provided in section 38a-598 of the general statutes or to determine the scope of beneficiaries in accordance with section 38a-636 of the general statutes, and shall not require a fraternal benefit society that has been established and is operating for charitable and educational purposes and which is operated, supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization to provide insurance benefits to any person if to do so would violate the fraternal benefit society's free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States and section 3 of article first of the Constitution of the state.
Sec. 503. (NEW) (Effective from passage) Nothing in this act shall be deemed or construed to affect the manner in which a religious organization may provide adoption, foster care or social services if such religious organization does not receive state or federal funds for that specific program or purpose.
(HT: Robin Wilson.)
It looks like the bill will also reaffirm the principle, which has never been contested, that no religious official will be required to officiate at or solemnize a same-sex marriage. And, as in similar laws around the country, it looks like the bill will allow parents to opt out of any marriage instruction for their children in the public schools.
The bill obviously draws on the proposal made by the five academics whose ideas I discussed earlier today. It does omit some of the more problematic aspects of the proposal, such as providing an exemption to "any individual" and its specific reference to the "sincerity" of religious belief.
Lots of practical questions remain about proposals like this, but if enacting a same-sex marriage law comes down to a negotiation over how broadly to draft a religious-liberty exemption then the problem becomes soluble — not much different from any legislative matter. Over the past decade, the political fulcrum has shifted from no recognition (pre-2000) to civil unions (2000-09) to same-sex marriage with protection for religious dissenters (2009- ). That's a healthy shift, and should help address the kinds of concerns that sank gay marriage in California.
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