Tuesday, November 10, 2009

D.C. Committee to Make Major Changes to Marriage Equality Bill For Stronger Religious Exemptions

UPDATE: HRC Backstory reports that the bill has passed the committee with added religious exemptions and is now going to the full council for an initial vote on December 1. The final vote will happen before the end of the year.

The Washington Post is reporting that a D.C. Council Committee is bowing to the pressure of the Archdiocese of Washington and other religious organizations because they don't like the language of the original marriage equality bill.

The current language states that religious officials who offer services to the public would have to offer those same wedding-related services to same-sex couples as well. This will restrict charitable services argue the religious institutions.
The proposed revisions mean, for example, that church officials do not have to rent reception space to a same-sex couple for a wedding, even if heterosexual couples can access that space. But churches would still have to abide by other aspects of the city's Human Rights Act, including not discriminating against gay employees who choose to get married.

"It was just clear, as a result of the testimony and as a result of the result of the public process, there were some fixes that needed to be made," said Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At large), chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.
Proposition 8 and the Right to Marry breaks it down.
D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) released Monday a revised draft of the same-sex marriage bill ... [The] original bill noted that “a religious organization, association or society, or a nonprofit organization which is operated, supervised, or controlled by” a church or religious group “shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, facilities or goods” for the purpose of performing any marriage “unless the entity makes such services, accommodations, or goods available … to members of the general public.” The revised bill removes the “unless the entity makes such services, accommodations, or goods available … to members of the general public” language. In a 22-page report that accompanies the bill’s new version, Mendelson’s committee says it “removed this language … after considerable comment from both secular and non-secular organizations ... Including this language would have had the undesirable impact of religious institutions closing their spaces to community groups and organizations, as there would otherwise be civil [liability] stemming from any refusal to solemnize or celebrate a same-sex marriage.
The changes will be revealed Tuesday afternoon after the committee votes on the proposed amendments, then it will be sent to full council.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Though I understand the need to protect religious liberty and adamantly support it, I don't know of any legislation exempting religious institutions who offer public services to anyone from discrimination laws protecting African American couples, interracial couples, old couples, couples who have divorced and are remarrying. Why is it necessary to write legalized discrimination against same-sex couples into the legislation? Why single us out?

I hope that this is just a way to get the bill passed with less controversy and the plan is to go back and revise. But again, why is this necessary since 10 out of the 13 coucilmembers are co-sponsors and intend to vote for it?

Another major change will allow domestic partnership in the District to continue alongside same-sex marriage, making the capital the first jurisdiction in the country to offer both institutions. Many LGBT advocacy groups argued to keep marriage separate from domestic partnerships, and that one should not supersede the other.

The bill is expected to be approved before Christmas.


  1. I hope I live to see the day where people embrace logic and reject religion.

  2. Personally, I don't care if EVERY Religious Organization and Church closes off its door's to me. Although thats not going to happen. I just want to be able to marry the man I love. I'm not looking to change religion or anyones views. I'm just asking that they respect mine as well. The DC bill(18-482) is going to go thru albeit with some modifications. I'm sure the majority of us are cool with that. Its time for some give and take...but how can we give...if we haven't been given anything? Yet.


  3. @Stone

    Interesting last sentence. How can we give if we haven't been given anything yet?

    I totally support religious freedom and that churches shouldn't be forced to have weddings in their chapels that they disagree with. However, if a religious institution is making money off of public services open to anyone, such as rental hall or gazebo, then it should be OPEN TO ANYONE. Why do they single us out? Many of their views are against divorce. Shouldn't they be petitioning government to be allowed to discriminate against those on their second, third or fourth marriage?

  4. I don't think this exemption is any different from the one written into the New Hampshire law at the request of Gov. Lynch.

    It is a very, very modest concession. This would not cover private businesses, such as the prejudiced florist, photographer, or caterer who is motivated by religion. It would only cover those wedding related services directly run or managed by a church. The number of people this would impact runs from zero to very, very few. And I am not sure that such an exemption wouldn't be constitutionally required anyway.

  5. That strikes me as a tough one.

    It clearly stems from the NJ space which was privately-owned but made available to the public in exchange for tax-exempt status.

    It clearly sets up a separate-but-equal dynamic, which of course is well-known to be a separate-and-not-equal dynamic.

    At the same time, the point could be made that marriage equality is different from wedding-hall equality. Rights and responsibilities of marriage are life-long, where weddings and renewals of vows are are day- or weekend-long events.

    As uncivil as the trade-off is, at a certain point, more is gained than lost, assuming that marriage equality is the gain. LGBT citizens do not end up relocated to internment camps, or eating at segregated lunch counters.

    Anti-gay businesses and institutions get a crumb in exchange, which history will prove to be small-minded and temporary.

    The crumb pisses me off, but I'm thinking I could live with it.

  6. I agree with Steven. It pisses me off, but it is something that we can live with. Moreover, some of the venues that will take advantage of the exception are likely to rethink their position on this matter in a few years when they realize how much money they are losing to other venues. Let them have this crumb.

  7. The more I think about it, I agree with Steve and Jay. It's a bitter pill to swallow (and unjust), but to have the right to marry is definitely worth the injustice of discrimination on the wedding day itself.

    It does not make it right though.

    It doesn't mean we should stop fighting legalized discrimination. It's still wrong. And like Jay said, over time, they'll see what business they're missing (and realize, "Hey, this marriage equality stuff isn't so bad!") Looking at religious history, money trumps religion a lot of the time. Didn't Jesus say something about that?