''Religious Exemptions'' in NY Same Sex marriage Law - Oxymoron?

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The bill passed by a 33-29 vote in recent days, following a lengthy debate by lawmakers on the extent to which religious exemptions, or in other words, the extent to which religious beliefs on homosexuality should be protected in the new law.

Critics say the religious exemptions put forth in the bill are a joke. Others, per the July 5th washingtontimes.com article, ''Religious groups fear legal fallout from N.Y. gay law'', call them robust, and that they ''could be used as a model for other states considering similar legislation.''

In brief, per the washingtontimes.com June 24th blog, ''Religious exceptions within New York's gay marriage bill'', the amendment, in part, which defined the religious protections states:
''A religious entity, or a corporation incorporated under the benevolent orders law or a not-for-profit, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage. Any such refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges shall not create any civil claim or cause of action or result in any state or local government action to penalize, withhold benefits, or discriminate against such religious corporation, benevolent order, a not-for-profit explanation.

Nothing in this article shall limit or diminish the right of any religious or denominational institution or organization to promote the religious principles for which it is established or maintained.

Nothing in this section shall be deemed or construed to limit the protections and exemptions otherwise provided to religious organizations under section three of article one of the constitution of the state of New York.

A refusal by a clergyman or minister shall not create a civil claim or cause of action or result in any state or local government action to penalize, withhold benefits or discriminate against such clergyman or minister.''
According to the July 5th washingtontimes.com article, Charles A. Donovan, who studies religion and civil society at the Heritage Foundation - a think tank founded in 1973 whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies - was quoted as saying that religious liberty ''is suffering the death of a thousand cuts.'' Essentially, he feels as though people who support the concept of traditional marriage are being put on the same level as ''racial bigots.''

Paul Atanasio, an officer of the Conservative Party of New York State (CPNYS) was quoted as saying in the July 5th article in regard to the religious exemptions that they are ''a complete and total fraud.'' He also stated that people involved in the gay rights movement are ''chomping at the bit'' to ''neutralize and destroy the church'' over the belief that marriage is a sacrament, according to the Catholic faith. ''I am telling you this is a Pandora's Box of litigation and lawsuits, which are going to go on ad infinitum,'' he added.

However, New York State Senator Mark Grisanti, a Catholic who had campaigned in opposition to gay marriage, was quoted as saying: ''As an attorney, I analyzed the legislation and concluded that the amendments provide critical exemptions for religious institutions. Passage of this bill now, rather than later, ensures that these protections be included.''

Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was quoted as saying per the July 5th washingtontimes.com article that the same sex marriage law ''eliminates marriage's very essence'' of binding a man and woman together, and it sets up a platform for officials ''to retaliate against'' those who continue to uphold ''these basic truths'' about marriage.

Dale Jones, a spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was quoted as saying in the July 5th washintontimes.com article: ''We do think there are fundamental religious liberty issues at stake that need to be thoroughly discussed and debated across the country.''

Per the July 5th washingtontimes.com article, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU) was unhappy about the passage of the NY law, but was also grateful for the religious exemptions which had been included.

In July 2nd time.com article, ''Gay Marriage: The Coming Clash of Civil and Religious Liberties'', Andrew Koppelman, the John Paul Stevens Professor of Law at Northwestern University was quoted as saying: ''The 'guy who runs the tuxedo shop' is trying to live his life in accordance with his most deeply held ideals, which is just what gay couples are trying to do. The fairly mild religious accommodations in New York law will somewhat ease conflicts of that sort, in a way that is unlikely to significantly injure any gay people.''

In the same time.com article, Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., expressed his concerns about what happens if the guy running the tuxedo shop refuses to do business with a gay couple, and was quoted as saying: ''These issues are inevitable, given the complicated and inevitable interface of religious conviction and the institution of marriage. It is hard to see how the accommodation put together in the New York legislation can stand, given the direction of the courts.''

Perhaps an infinite number of factors influence a discussion on the topic of same sex marriage. Those topping the list are separation of church and state, religious beliefs, as well as the concept of 'live and let live'. What about freedom of expression? What about the concept of 'being born that way'? Some might even put the discussion of barring same sex marriage on the same level of racial segregation - both are equally stupid and narrow minded.

As a lifelong Catholic who attends mass, I can understand the church's views on marriage, and its need to defend the sacrament of marriage. However, as a woman going through a divorce, I have also felt the sting of persecution, and been confounded over the prospect of an annulment.

Perhaps religious exemptions and all the legal consequences ad nauseam sure to follow the passage of the so called gay law in NY are preventing us from seeing the bigger picture. The right, the privilege to marry - to celebrate one's love for another - is indeed, a beautiful, sacred thing. Perhaps embracing the concept of loving one another, and the commitment that goes hand in hand with that, despite a lack of understanding, despite a lack of acceptance, should be viewed as a step in the right direction for our world, instead of a blasphemy to be shunned.

In essence, perhaps by empowering them, we are empowering ourselves.

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