Civil vs. religious rights in D.C. same-sex marriage law
By Michelle Boorstein
The same-sex marriage measure making its way through the D.C. City Council is proving good fodder for the debate that's heated up in recent years between faith-based groups and groups advocating for same-sex couples.
Same-sex marriage and civil union measures have spun off a cottage industry of lawyers working on this issue. It's framed as a standoff between civil rights (of the GLBT community) and religious liberty (of the faith-based groups to deny same-sex couples equal status to heterosexual couples). You can't imagine the number of conferences and academic papers written on this and how to accommodate both ascendant movements.
Back to D.C. Church-state lawyers disagree about how to characterize the D.C. bill. A diverse group of scholars said the reason the D.C. measure was setting off more of a confrontation than in other cities and states was because its exemption for faith-based groups was much narrower.
"In Washington this is one of the most extreme sets of penalties" for religious groups who oppose recognizing same-sex unions, said Robin Wilson, a legal scholar at Washington and Lee University.
Wilson was among the scholars who last month signed a letter to the council saying the proposed bill "offers no significant protection to those with conscientious religious objections to same-sex marriage." The letter said that without additional safeguards, "the recognition of same-sex marriage will lead to socially divisive and entirely unnecessary conflicts between same-sex marriage and religious liberty."
Lawyers and advocates with the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for gays and lesbians,among others, said the bill was not dramatically different from measures in Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont and that the church was coming out strong in Washington for another reason.
"In places where they think they can play a major role they are politically stepping out of the box" to become involved, said Brad Luna of HRC.
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