Sunday, May 31, 2009

"Except for gays" in New Hampshire

Last week, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted down a same-sex marriage bill because of a "conscientious objection" amendment which went far beyond protecting religious belief. Unfortunately, despite being rejected by the House, those amendments have been added back in in conference committee - and strengthened:

The new version, which is expected to come up for a vote Wednesday, adds a sentence specifying that all religious organizations, associations or societies have exclusive control over their religious doctrines, policies, teachings and beliefs on marriage. It also clarifies that church-related organizations that serve charitable or educational purposes are exempt from having to provide insurance and other benefits to same sex spouses of employees. The earlier version said "charitable and educational" instead of "charitable or educational."
The first part is absolutely uncontentious - so much so that you wonder why it is mentioned in law at all. The second is terrible. It means that any church-run organisation (and "charitable or educational purpose" means schools and hospitals) has a free hand to discriminate economically against same-sex couples generally. That isn't "conscientious objection", it's a license for bigotry - something which is immediately apparent if you substitute "mixed-race" or "black" into the language above.

The bill will go back to the House next week. I am hoping it will be voted down again. If the price of same-sex marriage now is this sort of explicit "except for gays" amendment to anti-discrimination law, it might be worth waiting a few years for public opinion to shift further so it can be done properly.