The First Amendment guarantees that: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." That means everyone has the freedom to practice his or her religion, and laws shall not be enacted solely based on a religion like Christianity. One would think this should prohibit bans on gay marriage since the arguments against marriage equality are religious in nature, and certain denominations perform gay marriage as a religious rite. Regardless, opponents of same-sex marriage have found a way to twist the First Amendment to create obstacles for gay couples who wish to marry, and even allows for someone to discriminate against any gay person using their religious beliefs as justification.
The slippery slope that this argument opens up is almost endless. Can a Muslim refuse to sell someone alcohol at the grocery store? Can a Catholic doctor refuse to treat a woman who uses birth control? Can a Christian Science business owner refuse to provide medical insurance to employees? These examples seem absurd, however they are well within the realm of possibility using this type of reasoning.
Most importantly, gay marriage does not "prohibit the free exercise" of religion for anyone.
• Gay Marriage opponents can still go to Church and assemble as they always have.
• Gay Marriage opponents can still worship as they always have.
• Gay Marriage opponents can still read their religious scriptures as they always have.
Despite what "Freedom of Religion Bill" sponsors would have you believe, NO Church or priest is required to marry a gay couple... or any couple for that matter. Churches and clergy have always been allowed to marry whom they want, and deny marriage to any couple not in alignment with their beliefs. This is why Mormons can deny marriage to non-Mormons or Mormons not in good standing, or why Catholics can deny second marriages to those who have not been granted a Roman Catholic annulment.
A priest can refuse to marry someone because the act of a marriage ceremony is an act of a religious rite. The act of baking a cake or arranging flowers is not a religious rite and not a practice of the person's religion. The goods or services purchased may be used for a religious rite in some cases, but the services a baker or florist provide is not a practice of their religion, and is not the actual act of performing a religious marriage.
Officiating a marriage = religious rite ✓ Can deny based on 1st Amendment
Baking a cake = not a religious rite X Cannot deny based on 1st Amendment
Arranging flowers = not a religious rite X Cannot deny based on 1st Amendment
While clergy can deny marriages in a religious setting, government officials cannot deny performing or processing civil marriages because they are acting as agents of the State by performing a secular marriage, or performing secular duties around a religious marriage, and the act of performing their job is not a religious rite.
Businesses do have a right to refuse creating a product in if the item being produced is offensive, which is why a baker can refuse to make a cake that says "I hate Christians" or "I hate gays." This is not denying services because of who the client is, but because the physical item made by the business would be offensive. There is some possibility here for a business to refuse to create a product that directly references gay marriage, like a cake with the image of two men getting married on it. However, a baker could not refuse to bake a generic wedding cake that has no identifier of gay marriage because that would be discrimination based on who the recipients are and/or how the cake would be used.
What is not taken into account by most proponents of these "Religious Freedom Bills" is that many Churches now perform gay marriages as a religious rite. Therefore, gay couples have a right to participate in the act of a religious marriage in their houses of worship. If a business refuses services or goods in relation to the couples Church wedding, or a county clerk refuses to issue a marriage license for the wedding, that is interfering with the gay couple's practice of their religion.
These arguments can get extremely complicated, however, many have simple conclusions. While there are valid arguments around people's sincere desire to protect their right to practice their religion, the majority of these bills are not geared towards addressing those issues. They were political statements directed against the LGBT community. Worse, in some cases these bills have crossed the "marriage line" and now remove protection that gay men and women have against discrimination. Sexual orientation is not covered by federal law, and is not included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
I will not serve someone at my restaurant if they are _____________.
I will not rent an apartment to someone if they are _____________.
I will fire someone from their job if they are _____________.
I will provide medical care to someone if they are _____________.
According to Federal Law you cannot fill in the above blanks with "African American," "Latino," "Jewish," or "Muslim." You should not be able to fill in the blanks with "Gay"... but in many states you can because sexual orientation is not covered by the Civil Rights Act. Unfortunately, these above examples of discrimination are only some of the cases actually documented against gay men and women in this country. Current federal laws protecting gay Americans are already lacking, and these "Religious Freedom" bills weaken protection even more. That is un-American and goes against the ideas that our Founding Fathers put forth. Ironically, the Baptists, some of today's strongest forces behind these discriminatory laws, were the early proponents of a full separation of church and state.
The purpose of the First Amendment is to guarantee that people can practice their religion, not force their religion on others, and certainly not use it to discriminate.
Top image: Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States by Howard Chandler Christy
Updated September 2016