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Don Roach: When Rights Collide – Homosexuality and Religion

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Our use of the term “anti-gay” has become a little excessive. I was reading about a law in Arizona that would allow any person or corporation the ability to claim the practice of religious exercise as a defense to violating certain sections of Arizona law.

Nowhere in the text of the law is the word “gay”, “black”, “white”, or other buzzwords used to attach an –ist claim to such language. Nevertheless, most media outlets are calling the bill an “anti-gay” piece of legislation so let me add some context around the bill.

First of all, most state have equal protection statutes the contents of which employers are required to post somewhere employees to see. These statutes usually talk about not discriminating based on race, religion, creed, national origin, and sexual orientation. For the purpose of today’s analysis, let’s only view these laws with respect to religion and sexual orientation.

In practice, this means states cannot make laws nor support actions by any entity (unless exempted) that discriminated based upon religion or sexual orientation. For example, if I apply for a job at Citizens Bank, Citizens cannot use my religion or lack thereof as a criterion in its hiring practice. Were I a homosexual man, the same would hold true. If, during the process I felt discriminated against on those grounds, I could seek legal redress against Citizens.

The law in Arizona appears to be addressing businesses that object to certain aspects of homosexuality – namely gay marriage – and refusing to serve them based upon their religious convictions. Recently, there was a story of a wedding photographer who refused to take photos for a gay couple on religious grounds and was sued – and lost . In response to the ruling against his client, the attorney for the photographer said:

The idea that free people can be ‘compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives’ as the ‘price of citizenship’ is a chilling and unprecedented attack on freedom.

Americans seem to agree as a Rasmussen poll found that 85 percent of Americans believe that “if a Christian wedding photographer who has deeply held religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage is asked to work a same-sex wedding ceremony, […] he has the right to say no.”

Alternative, the lawyer for the couple who sued the photographer successfully argued in court that:

No court has ever held that the First Amendment gives businesses a license to sell goods and services to the general public but then reject customers based on race or religion or sexual orientation, in violation of state law.

While America appears to overwhelmingly agree with this photographer, the courts did not.

What happens when rights collide?

The situation with the photographer and the Arizona law are about rights colliding. Free religious exercise is one of the primary reasons people from Europe came to America as many couldn’t freely practice their religion. Still, if my religion called for me to murder someone every 28 days, religious exercise wouldn’t be a sufficient defense. In recent years, many in the faith community have discussed the implications of gay marriage and churches refusing to marry same-sex. I haven’t heard any local or national pols that churches do not have a right to marry whomever they want to marry. It’s not dissimilar to Catholic churches refusing to marry people who are not Catholic.

Thus the question is where do we draw the line between exercising our First Amendment right to practice our own religion against other rights?

In situations with gay marriage, it is a dicey legal situation. Most Americans favor allowing people to practice their religion and even a majority of Americans are fine with gay marriage. One argument in support of gay marriage has been how it doesn’t affect people who are heterosexual. That’s not the main argument, but it is certainly an argument in debate. Well, in these two examples there will be impact and if you are a businessperson with considerable convictions about an issue, where are your protections?

Where are your rights? Do you as a business person just not sell anything?

I feel we need to strike a balance, but I’m not quite sure how. I wish I could end with a solution, but unfortunately I don’t have one. Do you?

Don can be reached at [email protected] . Please follow don on Twitter at @donroach34.


Related Slideshow: Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index Scorecard - Providence, RI

HRC's Municipal Equality Index (MEI) demonstrates the ways that many cities can—and do— support the LGBT people who live and work there, even where states and the federal government have failed to do so. GoLocal pulled the data from the 2012 and 2013 reports to show where progress has been made in Providence and Rhode Island.

This year's report rates a total of 291 cities from every state in the nation, representing a total population total of 77,851,822.  To see how PVD compares to other cities, download the full 2013 MEI report here and the 2012 version here.

Prev Next

Providence Non-Discrimination Laws

This category evaluates whether discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by the city, county, or state in areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Providence grabbed all available points in this category because it is under the jurisdiction of Rhode Island state laws prohibiting discrimination on both bases of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Non-Discrimination Laws 2012 2013
points for sexual orientation 3 out of 3 3 out of 3
points for gender identity 3 out of 3 3 out of 3
points for sexual orientation 3 out of 3 3 out of 3
points for gender identity 3 out of 3 3 out of 3
Public Accommodations    
points for sexual orientation 3 out of 3 3 out of 3
points for gender identity 3 out of 3 3 out of 3
Total Score 18 out of 18 18 out of 18
Prev Next

Providence Relationship Recognition

Because this is an evaluation of municipalities, not states, and marriage is a state-level policy, this section is weighted so that an equal number of points are awarded for marriage (or other state relationship recognition) and municipal domestic partner registries.

In 2013 Rhode Island passed landmark marriage equality legislation, cementing itself ahead of the curb in relationship recognition. However, since civil unions have been legal and available at the state level since 2011, the HRC granted the full 12 points in 2012 as well.

Relationship Recognition 2012 2013
Marriage Equality, Civil Unions, Domestic Partnerships 12 out of 12 12 out of 12
Prev Next

Providence Municipality as Employer

By offering equivalent benefits and protections to LGBT employees, and by awarding contracts to fair-minded businesses, municipalities commit themselves to treating LGBT employees equally.

By the HRC's account, Providence falls in line with some best practices as an employer- ample forthright laws are on the books forbidding discrimination in city employment and ensuring domestic partner and legal dependent health benefits. However, the city falls short of ensuring equivalent family leave and affirmatively forbidding discrimination in awarding city contracts and benefits to contractors.

Municipality as Employer 2012 2013
Non-Discrimination in City Employment    
points for sexual orientation 5 out of 5 5 out of 5
points for gender identity 5 out of 5 5 out of 5
Domestic Partner Health Benefits
4 out of 4 4 out of 4
Legal Dependent Benefits
2 out of 2 2 out of 2
Equivalent Family Leave
0 out of 2 0 out of 2
City Contractor
Non-Discrimination Ordinance
points for sexual orientation 0 out of 2 0 out of 2
points for gender identity 0 out of 2 0 out of 2
City Contractor
Equal Benefits Ordinance
0 out of 4 0 out of 4
Total Score 16 out of 26 16 out of 26
Prev Next

Providence Municipal Services

This section assesses the efforts of the city to ensure LGBT constituents are included in city services and programs.

A lack of a direct liason to the LGBT community in the mayor's office hurt Providence in the municipal services category. Providence does, however, have a Human Relations Office tasked with "enforc[ing] laws of equal opportunity in the City of Providence" as well as formally enumerated anti-bullying policies in schools at the municipal level.

Furthermore, the city's services aimed directly at underserved and particularly vulnerable populations were lauded by the HRC and scored Providence an extra 2 points in this category.

Municipal Services 2012 2013
Human Rights Commission
7 out of 7 7 out of 7
LGBT Liaison in
the Mayor’s Office
0 out of 5 0 out of 5
Enumerated Anti-Bullying
School Policies
points for sexual orientation 3 out of 3 3 out of 3
points for gender identity 3 out of 3 3 out of 3
Total Score 13 out of 18 13 out of 18
BONUS: City provides services
to particularly vulnerable
populations of the LGBT
2 Bonus Points 2 Bonus Points
Prev Next

Providence Law Enforcement

Fair enforcement of the law includes responsible reporting of hate crimes and engaging with the LGBT community in a thoughtful and respectful way.

Providence reports hate crime statistics, but their lack of a specific LGBT police liaison or task force caused an 8 point deduction from their final score.

Municipal Services 2012 2013
LGBT Police Liaison
or Task Force
0 out of 8 0 out of 8
Reported 2011 Hate Crimes
Statistics to the FBI
10 out of 10 10 out of 10
Total Score 10 out of 18 10 out of 18
Prev Next

Providence Relationship with the LGBT Community

This category measures the city leadership’s commitment to fully include the LGBT community and to advocate for full equality.

Providence was noted for it's leadership's public position on LGBT equality and particularly for a shift from 2012 to 2013 with the renewed focus on and support for marriage equality legislation through its passing. This shift was the sole driver of a higher 2013 overall score, with all 5 additional points being picked up in recognition of the city leadership's commitment to LGBT equality.  Other direct efforts to engage with the LGBT community also landed Providence 2 bonus points in both 2012 and 2013.

Municipal Services 2012 2013
Leadership’s Public Position
on LGBT Equality
3 out of 5 5 out of 5
Leadership’s Pro-Equality
Legislative or Policy Efforts
0 out of 3 3 out of 3
Total Score 3 out of 8 8 out of 8
BONUS: City engages with
the LGBT community
2 Bonus Points 2 Bonus Points
Prev Next

Total Scores

2012: 76 out of 100

2013: 81 out of 100

Categories 2012 2013
I. Non-Discrimination Laws
18 out of 18 18 out of 18
II. Relationship Recognition 12 out of 12 12 out of 12
III. Municipality as Employer 16 out of 26 16 out of 26
IV. Municipal Services 13 out of 18 13 out of 18
V. Law Enforcement 10 out of 18 10 out of 18
VI. Relationship with the LGBT Community 3 out of 8 8 out of 8
Bonus 4 points 4 points
Total Score 76 out of 100 81 out of 100



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