Marriage law needs exemption
There's a glaring omission in same-sex marriage legislation passed last week by the Illinois Senate — an exemption for those who do not want to engage in something they feel is morally repugnant.
Public opinion polls suggest — and they may well be correct — that attitudes toward same-sex marriage have shifted dramatically, so much so that it's only a matter of time, both in Illinois and many other states, that it will be formally recognized by law.
If that is indeed the case, the proper forum for its recognition is in a state's policy-making branch of government — the legislature. Ideas whose time has come should not become public policy as a result of fiats issued by judges who legislate from the bench.
So last week's vote by the Illinois Senate most likely is a harbinger of things to come. It won't be, as some claim, the end of the world. But it may well be another example of those holding nontraditional views using their newfound legal status to bludgeon those who disagree with them into line.
The impending embrace of same-sex marriage in Illinois is not so simple as allowing two men or two women to marry. It also allows same-sex marriage proponents to force dissenters into being unwilling participants under the force of law.
Concern about that unattractive possibility was raised by members of the Illinois Senate, mostly as it addressed religious institutions that oppose sex-same marriage. Indeed, state Sen. Jason Barickman, a Bloomington Republican, explained that he voted in favor of same-sex marriage only after a provision was adopted in the legislation that exempts religious institutions from being required to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Assured that churches, defined as institutions "whose principal purpose is the study, practice or advancement of religion," would be insulated from being legally compelled to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies, Barickman voted yes and then congratulated himself for having the moral courage to do what he called "the right thing."
Of course, doing the right thing isn't always easy to divine. Those who oppose same-sex marriage think they're doing the right thing, too.
Indeed, throughout all of human history until this moment, every society on earth has decreed that marriage was limited to those of different genders.
Were they all moral reprobates, leaving themselves to be re-educated on the issue by Barickman, state Sen. Michael Frerichs and the other members of the Illinois Senate who voted in favor? Not likely.
This issue is a matter of conscience, and there is sharp disagreement that cannot be bridged. It would be wise if proponents of gay marriage recognized that.
That's why Barickman's so-called guarantee is no guarantee at all. It's certainly his hope. Then again, supporters of Obamacare guaranteed that the Catholic Church wouldn't be forced to provide birth control for its employees, a practice President Obama is now trying to force on it.
Proponents of civil unions in Illinois never hinted that they would force Catholic Social Services out of business for refusing, for religious reasons, to place adoptable children in families with same-sex partners. But that's just what happened.
Indeed, Barickman's guarantee that he claims protects religious rights specifically "does not include businesses, health care facilities, educational facilities or social service agencies."
So get ready for some ma-and-pa enterprise not in the vanguard of social change being sued because it does not wish to participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony, reception or wedding night activities.
It would, in our view, be wise for the legislative proponents of same-sex marriage to give those people a legal exemption from engaging in that which they find morally repugnant. Why not respect dissenters who hold to the apparently antiquated view that marriage is for one man and one woman?
They should because it's the smart way to address society's shifting attitudes. There will be no shortage of agencies or businesses to meet the commercial or personal needs of same-sex couples, and, in time, those attitudes may soften and fade away.
But the legislation, as drafted, does not do that, and it's a major omission.