New York For many conservative religious Americans, the nations long-standing Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, including the one just passed in Indiana last week, could possibly carve out a public space that permits individuals and their businesses to uphold their religious opposition to same-sex marriage.
But as more same-sex couples across the country legally celebrate their nuptials with traditional public pomp and ceremony, the cherished right of freedom of religion has run headlong into the principle of nondiscrimination in the public sphere.
As a result, a vexing national debate has begun to rage over the extent and legal limits of each sides visions for the nations common life together or how uncommon lives should interact within the public sphere.
What were coming up against is: How far does secular law have to go to accommodate a persons religion? says Mark Goldfeder, senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University in Atlanta. And the truth is, this is happening across the country, even in places where there are no RFRAs, or religious freedom restoration acts.
The poster businesses for the debate have been flower shops, photographers, and bakers who offer services to couples planning their weddings but object to providing these services to gay and lesbian couples, who can now legally marry in 37 states. The Supreme Court is expected to decide the issue by the end of the current term in June.
The issue also includes the religious conscience of public clerks who issue marriage licenses, doctors or anesthesiologists who may tangentially participate in abortion procedures, or any other professionals who might object to participating in events that offend their deeply held religious beliefs.
But since Indiana became the 20th state to pass its version of a religious freedom restoration act last week, a widespread chorus of critics has objected to the new state law or at least the perceived intentions behind it.
Believing it may indeed permit discrimination against lesbian and gay Americans, CEOs such asApples Tim Cook, the governor of Connecticut, the mayor of Seattle, and organizations such as the NCAA and Gen Con have begun to rethink, or even curtail, their business relationships with the state.
These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear, Mr. Cook, who is gay, wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post on Sunday. They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.
Its a far cry from the overwhelming bipartisan consensus that first accompanied the original Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993. More than two decades ago, the federal version passed unanimously by voice vote in the House yes, thats right, unanimously and with only three nays in the Senate before President Bill Clinton signed it into law.
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Indiana law: Does freedom of religion mean freedom to discriminate? (+video)