Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Another Look at Arizona's Gay Marriage Bill


The more I learn about Senate Bill 1062, the more I understand why Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is taking her time to render her verdict on it.

The mainstream media, along with a lot of right-wing pundits, would like us to believe that this proposed legislation is about protecting Christian business owners in Arizona from gay marriage lawsuits.  The specter of Christian photographers and cake bakers in other states being sued by gay couples plays vividly in everybody's mind.

But is there more than gay marriage at stake here?

For those of us who've actually bothered to read the bill, doing so obviously doesn't answer a lot of the questions we may have about it.  The bill is a study in perfunctory legalese that seems to be deliberately obtuse and opaque in conveying its ramifications.  When you get to the bottom of the page, the legal novice still has few clues as to how significant or insignificant the changes indicated by different-colored typeface are.  Mostly, it just looks like a digital document that has been edited by several different committees.

What SB 1062 appears to do is provide just about any organization in Arizona the rights previously held exclusively by religious institutions.  Those rights allow them to use the teachings of their faith as a legal defense if they were ever sued for acting upon those teachings in a manner that appeared discriminatory to somebody else.  SB 1062 doesn't expressly guarantee anybody the right to perpetrate what they claim to be faith-based actions against somebody else, and it doesn't expressly prevent somebody else from suing the business or organization that they're accusing of discrimination.  At it's core, it could be argued that this legislation merely offers another avenue of protection in the event of a lawsuit based on perceived discrimination.

In fact, that's one of the arguments being proffered by a group of eminent lawyers and legal scholars in a letter to Governor Brewer.  This letter is intended to dispel what these lawyers claim are egregious misrepresentations of the bill by its many critics in the pro-gay-marriage lobby.  Signatories of this letter base their views on other interpretations of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs), of which at least one of the signatories, Douglas Laycock, is a national expert.

Frankly, since I don't claim to be any sort of expert on this topic, I would be inclined to disavow everything I've already written about SB 1062 and rally around the advice being given by these esteemed legal minds.  I think that some sort of protections need to be provided for people of faith who might otherwise be forced to endorse - however unwillingly - certain issues that conflict with what the Bible teaches about morality.  Particularly when it comes to the bedrock of society:  marriage and family.

However, even the writers of this letter admit that they're not unanimous in their support for SB 1062.  They mostly want to clarify what they believe to be inaccuracies in populist descriptions of what the law is, what it will do, and who is going to be affected.  They also go into the differences that they see between Arizona's SB 1062 and its legal cousin from Kansas that was recently scuttled, HB 2453.  Then there are a few paragraphs explaining the role RFRAs played in the drafting of Arizona's proposed law.

And maybe I'm missing it, since, as I said, I'm no lawyer.  But my main point of contention with SB 1062 remains unresolved, even with this letter written by experts on the subject.  And that main point of contention is that it allows anybody of any religion to use that religion to justify what amounts to discrimination.  Now, maybe I'm wrong, but when I read the text of SB 1062, I see all sorts of wide-open doors.  Look, if you will, at 9.D., which requires that a person who wants to use this law to protect themself from a discrimination lawsuit must establish all of these things:

1.  That the person's action or refusal to act is motivated by a religious belief.

2.  That the person's religious belief is sincerely held.

3.  That the state action substantially burdens the exercise of the person's religious beliefs.

With everybody focused on gay marriage right now, it's easy to forget that we have lifestyles and personal characteristics with which people from all sorts of religions have theological problems.  For example, what would happen if, say, a radical Muslim store owner decided he didn't want to serve Jewish or Christian customers anymore?  What is the extent to which a deeply fundamentalist Christian could decide not to serve customers who willingly pronounced themselves gay, or were festooned with tattoos, or weren't wearing appropriately modest clothing?

Where would it end?

Meanwhile, this afternoon, here in Texas, a federal judge in San Antonio ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.   But advocates of gay marriage can't get hitched here just yet - there are several other similar cases pending in the state, along with what will inevitably be a series of appeals.  It's virtually guaranteed that the Supreme Court will be deciding the issue, further reinforcing my fear that marriage laws and how they're crafted are facing a whole new world of legal skulduggery.

Maybe this is how we evangelicals need to be fighting for what we believe is right.  However, I can't help but look back over the life of Christ as He walked on this Earth, and marvel at how little He involved Himself with legislating morality.  He was pro-human-rights, pro-life, pro-fairness, pro-respect, and pro-faith, but even as His disciples thought He would somehow become a political champion for them, He was crucified, resurrected, and eventually ascended back into His heavenly home without once advocating any political platform.

Not that we evangelicals should extrapolate from Christ's example that we should simply sit by and watch our nation plunge into moral turpitude.  Especially since, as Americans, we are blessed with a Constitution that gives us an equal voice in our governance.

But I'll go back to what I wrote yesterday:  Our advocacy for Biblical morality and demonstrating the Fruit of the Spirit shouldn't be mutually exclusive.  Besides, Christ didn't die on the cross so we could rid ourselves of having to do business with gay people.  He died on the cross to save us from sin, including the sin of thinking we're better than ordinary sinners.

Perhaps Arizona's SB 1062 is as ambiguous as it appears to be for a good reason.  Perhaps the legal eagles are right in their letter to Governor Brewer, and that gay marriage advocates are exaggerating the bill's potential.

Nevertheless, if not even all of the signatories on that letter know whether the governor should sign it into law or not, that's yet another spooky sign about its broader legitimacy, isn't it?  What makes this bill so special that pro-heterosexual-marriage advocates need to champion it?  Are we just desperate and settling for quick fixes?  Does the end justify the means?

What happens if those means themselves aren't wholly effective?

I don't know if Governor Brewer has made Christ the Lord of her life, but I'm praying that He gives her extraordinary wisdom on this one.


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