January 12, 2007

Supporting Religious Freedom

One of the alarmist tactics used by opponents of same-sex marriage is to claim that it is a threat to religious freedom. The line is that activists seek to force churches to perform these ceremonies even if it goes against their doctrine. This is a claim not based in fact, as illustrated by this press release from Garden State Equality, an organization that advocates for the GLBT community in New Jersey.

Statement from Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, cell (917) 449-8918:
Today New Jersey Attorney General Stuart Rabner issued written advice to the State Registrar of Vital Statistics concluding that, once a New Jersey law authorizing civil unions takes effect on February 19, members of the clergy may legally decline to perform civil union ceremonies if doing so would conflict with "sincerely held religious beliefs."

Though we at Garden State Equality have received many calls from journalists in the past hour, this is a nonstory. Garden State Equality agrees with the Attorney General's opinion.

National and statewide LGBTI rights organizations have always maintained -- even with regard to 100 percent marriage equality for same-sex couples, which we will achieve in New Jersey through by passing legislation within the next two years or less -- that clergy have the option not to perform whatever ceremonies they don't wish to perform.

In fact, the Garden State Equality-supported bill introduced by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), which would establish 100 percent marriage equality instead of civil unions that are separate, unequal and discriminatory, specifically states that clergy do not have to perform ceremonies they don't wish to. This has always been a tenet of the national marriage equality movement.

All that said, allowing clergy not to perform same-sex ceremonies is entirely different from allowing government officials from refraining to perform same-sex ceremonies if they do perform opposite-sex ceremonies.

Government officiants like mayors do not have any right to discriminate against same-sex couples under both the New Jersey Constitution and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. We're pleased that Attorney General Rabner's opinion today reiterates this strongly.

Some mayors in New Jersey are now opting not to perform any ceremonies because of their opposition to same-sex marriage. That is their legal right. Discrimination, at least in New Jersey marriages, are not.

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