The LGBT Bait-And-Switch On Religious Freedom

David Benkof Contributor
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Lost in the clamor of the recent debate over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is the fact that most of America’s gay-marriage laws have “religious freedom” in their titles – sometimes even in the first two words:

• Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act (Illinois, 2013)
• Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act (Maryland, 2012)
• Civil Marriage Equality and Religious Freedom Act  (Delaware, 2013)
• Act to Protect Religious Freedom and Recognize Equality in Civil Marriage (Vermont, 2009)
• Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act (California, 2005; vetoed)
• Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act (Washington, DC, 2009)
• Act to Allow Marriage Licenses for Same-Sex Couples and Protect Religious Freedom (Maine, 2012)

In most cases, the only “religious freedom” in these laws is the right of clergy to refuse to perform same-sex ceremonies – something already protected by the Constitution. Yet the gay community promoted such legislation as if it sought a balance between legal protections for loving LGBT couples and religious freedom for people who have a different point of view.

For example, three years ago Zach Silk, the campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage, said Washington’s “new marriage law fully protects religious liberty.”

Here’s how his campaign responded to an ad by gay-marriage opponents that pointed to a lawsuit against Vermont innkeepers who declined to host a same-sex wedding:

“As supporters of Referendum 74 know, these claims simply aren’t true. Approving Referendum 74 protects the rights of churches and individuals to define marriage however they wish… . While it’s possible those kinds of incidents could happen in Washington, there’s no evidence that R-74 makes them more likely.”

Tell that to Baronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, who declined to provide flowers for the marriage of a longtime gay customer – and was fined $1,000. A lawsuit against Stutzman’s business and the Christian florist herself is pending, although the state has offered to settle the case for $2,000 if the defendant will agree to serve gay weddings.

I thought they said people would have the right to define marriage however they wished.

Unfortunately, the LGBT strategy of downplaying the impact of gay rights measures until they become law has a long history.

In Massachusetts, for example, a 1989 law protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination specified “nothing in this act shall be construed so as to legitimize or validate a ‘homosexual marriage.’” Yet the 2004 Goodridge decision, the first to establish a statewide right to gay marriage, specifically cited that law to rebut the argument that residents of the Bay State find homosexuality immoral.

(A nearly identical process took place with New York’s 2002 Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act.)

Indeed, many of the well-known florist/baker/photographer cases do not arise from gay marriage legislation at all, but from non-discrimination laws. Campaigners often pitched them as having nothing to do with marriage – if marriage was even mentioned at all. (Of course, it’s hard to punish vendors who won’t serve gay weddings if there aren’t gay weddings in the first place.)

At no point before the passage of non-discrimination and gay-marriage laws did proponents explain to voters that the measures would restrict traditionalists from operating their businesses using their own understanding of what marriage is – and indeed they were sometimes told the opposite.

But now, as such restrictions kick in, same-sex marriage proponents are saying “It’s discrimination and that’s against the law.”

Yes! Precisely! But it’s only discrimination and it’s only the law because of laws that passed without a full airing of their effects on traditionally religious people. Had non-discrimination and gay marriage legislation been promoted more honestly, who knows? Maybe it still would have passed.

But when measures advertised as promoting “religious freedom and marriage equality” turn into punishments against Americans who want to abide by traditionally religious understandings of marriage, that’s bait-and-switch.

The gay community has sold America a bill of goods.

David Benkof is Senior Political Analyst at the Daily Caller. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter (@DavidBenkof); or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.