. . . It is so nice when a reporter can let conflicting sides put the conflict in their own terms, as Hagerty does. Efficiently and clearly, Hagerty explains that the couple filed a complaint with New Jersey’s Civil Rights office alleging unlawful discrimination. They made the case that religious beliefs are not a defense. The Methodists responded that their First Amendment rights protect them from such a case. The lesbians won and the state revoked the Methodist’s tax exemption for the worship space. The Methodists are appealing.
The third part of the story looks at the issue nationwide:As states have legalized same-sex partnerships, the rights of gay couples have consistently trumped the rights of religious groups. Marc Stern, general counsel for the American Jewish Congress, says that does not mean that a pastor can be sued for preaching against same-sex marriage. But, he says, that may be just about the only religious activity that will be protected.
For now, but look at Canada if you want to see what can happen (and yes, you read it right - the pastor has been ordered to remain silent on homosexuality).
“What if a church offers marriage counseling? Will they be able to say ‘No, we’re not going to help gay couples get along because it violates our religious principles to do so? What about summer camps? Will they be able to insist that gay couples not serve as staff because they’re a bad example?” Stern asks.
Hagerty mentions other cases — Yeshiva University was ordered to allow same-sex couples in its dormitory for married couples. A Lutheran school has been sued for expelling two lesbian students. Catholic Charities abandoned adoptions services in Massachusetts after it was told to place children with same-sex couples. A psychologist in Mississippi who refused to counsel a lesbian couple lost her case and a doctor who refused to provide in vitro fertilization to a lesbian in California is likely to lose his case before the California Supreme Court. The stories, such as this one about a wedding photographer, are riveting:On January 28, 2008, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission heard the case of Vanessa Willock v. Elane Photography.
Note, this is not a court of law - this is a "Human Rights Commission" - they are not bound by the requirements of a court of law, yet they are able to levy fines.
Willock, in the midst of planning her wedding to her girlfriend, sent the photography company an e-mail request to shoot the commitment ceremony. Elaine Huguenin, who owns the company with her husband, replied: “We do not photograph same-sex weddings. But thanks for checking out our site! Have a great day!”
Willock filed a complaint, and at the hearing she explained how she felt.
“A variety of emotions,” she said, holding back tears. “There was a shock and anger and fear. . . . We were planning a very happy day for us, and we’re being met with hatred. That’s how it felt.”
And it's all about feelings . . .
Willock declined to be interviewed, as did the owners of Elane Photography. At the hearing, Jonathan Huguenin said that when he and his wife formed the company two years ago, they made it company policy not to shoot same-sex ceremonies, because the ceremonies conflicted with their Christian beliefs.
“We wanted to make sure that everything we photographed — everything we used our artistic ability for, everything we told a story for or conveyed a message of — would be in line with our values and our beliefs,” he said.
The defendants’ attorney, Jordan Lorence at ADF, says that of course a Christian widget-maker cannot fire an employee because he’s gay. But it’s different when the company or a religious charity is being forced to endorse something they don’t believe, he says.
“It’s a very different situation when we’re talking about promoting a message,” Lorence says. “When it’s ‘We want to punish you for not helping us promote our message that same-sex marriage is OK,’ that for me is a very different deal. It’s compelled speech. You’re using the arm of the government for punishing people for disagreeing with you.”
In April, the state human rights commission found that Elane Photography was guilty of discrimination and must pay the Willock’s more than $6,600 attorneys’ fee bill.
Hagerty speaks with legal experts who predict gays will easily win future battles between religious rights and gay rights.
It’s a really good story, complete with a lengthy sidebar detailing how same-sex couples are successfully challenging policies of parochial schools, parachurch organizations and Christian business owners. There’s also an interactive map of the United States showing different laws by states. . .
Read it all.