Religion at its best and worst in fight over civil unions bill
As the Colorado Civil Unions Bill (Senate Bill 11) moves toward almost certain passage in the House in the near future, one of the back-stories is the religious reaction to the bill.
At one extreme is the right-wing, anti-homosexuality group National Organization for Marriage —listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
At the other is a lone Republican representative who breaks with her conservative caucus to vote her conscience because she “wanted to be able to look back on her years of public service and know that she had been true to her upbringing in a devout Catholic family.”
When the Civil Unions bill passed a Senate committee on a party line vote, NOM responded with a quote from Monsignor Thomas Fryar of the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver. “If this law passes, there is going to be a great persecution of the faithful,” he lamented. “We cannot allow that.”
“We completely agree,” NOM added.
By “persecution,” Fryar means loss of the freedom to refuse service to LGBT groups or individuals for religious reasons.
As NOM charged, bill sponsor Sen. Pat Steadman “argues that any person of faith with pro-marriage views should be forced to violate their conscience if they choose to continue operating their business (flower shops, bakeries, restaurants, photographers, banquet halls, etc) after the passage of same-sex civil unions.”
Nevertheless, NOM and other right-wing religious groups complain that interfering with their right to discriminate against gays and lesbians is an infringement on their religious freedom.
They also complain that “gay marriage activists are attempting to undermine the clear will of Colorado voters and threaten religious freedom.”
Defending its right to discriminate, NOM complained that its civil rights would be violated if businesses — flower shops, wedding services, caterers, facilities and others — were forced to serve gay or lesbian customers.
When NOM charged Stedman with being contemptuous of religion because he argued that Christians have no right to discriminate against gays and lesbians, the senator responded, “Don’t claim religion as a reason the law should discriminate. We have laws against discrimination ... in employment, and housing, and public accommodations and so bakeries that serve the pubic aren’t supposed to look down their noses at one particular class of persons and say ‘We don’t sell cakes to you.’ It’s troubling, this discrimination.”
He concluded that it is already illegal to discriminate in those areas listed by NOM as infringing on individuals’ or businesses’ rights.
Considered a Christian organization, NOM represents an intolerant, exclusionary and bigoted form of religion.
“To those who claim that religion requires them to discriminate,” Steadman says, “I tell you what I’d say: ‘Get thee to a nunnery!’ And live ... a monastic life away from modern society, away from people you can’t see as equals to yourself. Away from ... commerce where you may have to serve them or employ them or rent banquet halls to them.”
In other words, believe what you want, but don’t be an impediment to progress.
By contrast to the narrow-minded conservatism of NOM, a different sense of religion inspired Rep. Carol Murray, R-Castle Rock, to pledge to vote with House Democrats to pass the Colorado Civil Unions bill.
Murray acknowledged her concern that her conservative constituents might not agree with her vote, but she nevertheless became the only Republican in the House to support SB 11.
“Jesus taught us to love one another. In that spirit, I’ll be a yes vote on this bill,” an emotional Murray told the chamber, according to a Fox31 report.
“Times change. I think this bill is about people wanting to take on that commitment. I don’t think we have enough people doing that in our society.”
Nor do we have enough legislators doing what Rep. Murray did. In spite of potential cost to her own career from the party or her constituents, Murray made the existential choice to put principle before party and justice before personal ambition.
It’s called integrity, and it is an essential ingredient of making democracy work.
More of Murray’s colleagues in both parties should aspire to equal courage, independence and autonomy.