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.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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What a great day for news! Plenty of irony for everybody.
The UN says state pro-pot laws violate treaties. That costs them credibility with libs who are normally fans of the “peaceful” UN but like to smoke pot. Meanwhile, faux “conservatives” who are too ignorant and agenda-driven to understand how the fraudulent “war” on drugs has destroyed the Constitution, particularly the 4th Amendment, can now enjoy some newly discovered appreciation for a band of crooks and manipulators they normally despise.
Then we have letters about the “lack of transparency” (as if there has ever been any since the NSA Act of 1947 and CIA Act of 1949) over the firing of a public employee who served at the pleasure of the politicos who fired her. You’d think she was a stock holder in the Sentinel or something.
Last but not least, there is the self-evident illogic of good old reliably sophistic Bill Grant bemoaning the fact that the 1st Amendment doesn’t guarantee gays the right to turn a heterosexual church into a homosexual one.
The 1st Amendment gives Americans the right to associate together according to their beliefs. That’s why there’s a virtual Baskin-Robbins variety of religious denominations. Jews can hang out with Jews, Catholics with Catholics, Baptists with Baptists, Atheists with Atheists, ad infinitum.
The 1st Amendment does not give Atheists the right to force a theist church to accept them as members and work, like a worm in an apple, to change the theistic church into an atheistic one. Nor does it create a right for homosexuals to force a church which believes homosexuality is sin to accept them as members and allow them to work, again like a worm in an apple, to change a homosexuality-is-sin church into a homosexuality-is-normal church. In America, generally speaking, sincerely held religious beliefs are beyond the reach of government. See United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944)
The 1st Amendment does allow gays to form their own First Church of Divine Homosexuality if they choose to do that. So why not leave everybody else alone and let Jews be Jews, Catholics be Catholics, and Baptists be Baptists for crying out loud. Give the propaganda a rest already.
Liberals and sophists like Grant love to use rhetorical brinksmanship to fraudulently demonize those who disagree with them as “haters” “intolerant” etc. It would be all too easy for me to use an extreme example of the same rhetorical brinksmanship to illustrate my constitutional point. But I find Grant’s self-evident non-sequiturian sophistry too disgusting to bother.

Bill Grant’s timely column – “Religion at its best and worst in fight over civil union bill” (March 6, 2013) – exposes familiar tensions underlying pending issues of public policy.

As to LGBTQ rights – including civil unions – there is an obvious tension between the sentiments expressed in the Declaration of Independence (that “all [wo]men are created equal”) and the plain Constitutional language of the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV, Section 2, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, on the one hand, and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, on the other.

Recognizing the Judeo-Christian heritage that informs our secular legal system, the task of legislatures is to disentangle religious-based prejudices from non-discriminatory legal imperatives.  Thus, the legal rights implicit in marriage can be conveyed to gay couples via civil unions without infringing on the sacerdotal traditions of church weddings.

Meanwhile, as suggested by Carol Murray (R-Castle Rock), the task for religious leaders is to disentangle the virulent intolerance of Leviticus from the Golden Rule. 

Similar tensions also threaten women’s fundamental constitutional rights to abortion and contraception.  Because sexist religious doctrines are too often espoused by adulterous evangelists, pedophile priests, and/or rapacious rabbis, any religious doctrine that would deny distaff citizens their “unalienable rights” should merit no deference before the law.

Our Supreme Court will confront the ongoing tension between the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses in Conference of Catholic Bishops v. Sebelius (re:  ObamaCare’s health insurance contraception provision).

In that case, the questionably constitutional Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 threatens to re-“establish” the primacy of disparate religious beliefs by permitting them to trump even religiously neutral civil laws of general applicability (not intended to interfere with religion) if they “substantially burden” the “free exercise of religion”—unless “narrowly tailored” to further “a compelling state interest”.

Addendum my previous point.
I have always tended to favor civil unions for gays for the express purpose of combating militant gay activists’ wannabe-clever brainwashing propaganda technique of redefining the word “marriage” to mean something other than the ancient and manifestly workable “one man, one woman” definition. If various religious zealots could have found it in their hearts to be a little more strategically “flexible” propaganda-wise, the whole oxymoronic “gay marriage” stupidity/bruhaha might have been avoided.
No less a thinker than one of my favorite writers, openly lesbian Camille Paglia, the University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, in an admirable exercise in intellectual honesty, said the following:
“Surely the truth about human nature must be our ultimate goal. Intimidation of or violence against anyone, gay or straight, of course cannot be tolerated in civil society. But to make so direct a connection (as gay activists persistently did in the ‘90s) between free inquiry and homophobic oppression is worrisome.
“The decision by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders was a major advance in civil liberties. But an unfortunate result, reinforced by the new trend of post-structuralism (which sees human beings as entirely shaped by covert political forces), was the waning of psychological insight into personality formation. There are a myriad of factors at work there that require a nearly novelistic aptitude to detect and dissect.
“I have said many times before that I do not believe homosexuality is inborn but that it is an adaptation to specific circumstances and possibilities. What many gay men are remembering as their innate gayness was in fact some other attribute (often an artistic gene) that may have led to a dislocation from roughhousing male bonding. The sex instinct, which comes later, is in my view heavily symbolic among human beings. (Post-structuralism, among its many pathetic flaws, is helpless with symbolism.)”
It would be wonderful if Bill Grant could take a lesson from Camille Paglia in intellectual honesty. But after years of observing Grant’s writing, I suspect it would be the most extreme form of wishful thinking to hold my breath until that happens.

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