The Alabama House passed a bill on Thursday that allows judges to refuse to perform gay marriages. It passed after a four-hour debate by a vote of 69-25. More “religious protection” bills are on the way according to groups pushing this legislation.
The bill was passed to ease fears that judges and ministers would be forced to perform gay marriages if court rulings legalizing gay marriage in Alabama were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. This bill to be blunt is a travesty, would open the door to lawlessness by Alabama’s judges, and should be vetoed.
The first problem with this bill is that it tries to link judges performing gay marriage ceremonies with other travesties on this issue, such as requiring bakers to bake cakes for gay wedding ceremonies. There is a major moral difference between a private company refusing to offer a service and government official refusing to perform their legal duty. Judges are bound by law to serve all of their constituents and perform certain duties as described, despite their own personal feelings on the matter. One of those duties is solemnizing marriages. A judge cannot refuse to perform an interracial marriage because they personally disapprove it.
On the other hand, fining or legally punishing a private individual because they refuse to perform services for a gay wedding is immoral. In this age of Yelp and social media where customers can easily leave reviews of businesses, we need to ask ourselves if anti-discrimination laws covering the private sector are obsolete. If a business is discriminating based on gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion; it’s more easy for customers to identify those offending businesses and for people to vote accordingly with their pocketbooks. There is no need for the state to get involved and punish businesses with fines and other punishments.
If a judge cannot perform a gay marriage ceremony because they disagree with it, they should not be a judge. This is like refusing to sentence someone to jail because they object to a law. Judges do not have that discretion in criminal law and should not have that kind of discretion in marriage law.
As for ministers being forced to perform gay marriages, that’s a red herring. The First Amendment already protects the rights of ministers to refuse to perform gay marriages. The decision of churches to solemnize marriages to whom ever they want, as long as they can legally consent, is a protected religious practice. This legislation to protect them is not necessary.
The best way to solve is to divorce government from the act of solemnizing marriage. Make the only legal paperwork that has to be signed off is the marriage contract itself. Whenever a county or parish official files or signs off on a contract, they’re not passing judgment on the issue. All they’re doing is just filing legal paperwork so it can be enforced in courts. We should also look into ways into getting government out of marriage for tax purposes and other services.
All of these “religious protection bills” miss the big picture. Why should private businesses have the right to discriminate against potential customers based upon their religious beliefs and not have the right to discriminate based on other factors? Here’s another way to put it, why should gay marriage opponents have special rights?
Instead of writing “religious protection bills” to protect business owners from being bankrupted and driven out of business by government agencies for deciding who they want to serve, legislatures should consider a different approach. Every legislature should pass a bill or better yet an amendment to their state’s constitution stating this:
The right of any private business to deny service for any reason, except for emergency medical services and emergency lodging in a licensed hotel, shall not be infringed by any law.
Anti-discrimination laws, in this era of social media, are relics of the past. It’s time to make these laws history and let the marketplace punish discrimination. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to trust ordinary people than the government.