The movement toward legalizing same-sex marriage in New Hampshire has hit a bump. Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, said last week that he would sign a same-sex marriage bill only if it included new language expanding protection for religious institutions that might object to same-sex marriage. On Wednesday, the state’s House of Representatives rejected that amendment. So for the moment, the matter is stalled in New Hampshire.
But whatever the outcome, Mr. Lynch may have moved the debate over same-sex marriage forward, at least by isolating it from the question of how it affects religious groups.
For some time, scholars have debated this issue, and some are now urging states considering same-sex marriage laws to include strong protections for religious organizations. Some are even suggesting protections for individuals and small businesses who offer services for weddings — like photographers, florists, caterers, bakers, wedding planners and musicians. The argument is that these individuals and businesses might have religious objections to gay couples’ marrying and could be exposed to sizable fines or strong penalties under nondiscrimination statutes.
The deliberations in New Hampshire could have implications for New York, where the legalization of same-sex marriage hovers on the brink without the kind of protection for religious groups that Mr. Lynch demanded. New Hampshire’s experience may also affect current debates in the District of Columbia and Rhode Island, or even in California, if the State Supreme Court there rules next week either to overturn Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that passed last November or to uphold the marriages performed for 18,000 same-sex couples before November.
Opponents of same-sex marriage have frequently said it threatens to penalize members of the clergy who refuse to solemnize such unions or who preach against them. Legal experts almost unanimously dismiss such alarms. Refusals to officiate or to mute a religious doctrine, they say, are solidly protected by the First Amendment.
But that is not where the real issue lies. What would be the impact of legalizing same-sex marriage on a broader range of religious institutions?
Would Catholic universities now providing housing for married couples be required to accommodate same-sex couples? Would church or synagogue facilities used for wedding receptions have to be equally available for same-sex celebrations? How would provisions forbidding discrimination on the grounds of marital status affect employment and benefits policies or adoption services like the specialized adoption services that Catholic Charities in Massachusetts suspended after the state legalized same-sex marriage and ordered the church group to place children with gay couples? [...]