Saturday, June 25, 2011

New York Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage With Lengthy Exemptions For Religious Organizations

Late last night, the New York state Senate voted 33-29 in favor of A8354, the bill passed earlier this month by the state Assembly legalizing same-sex marriage.  Then the Assembly and Senate both passed A8520 which expanded the protections for churches, religious organizations and clergy who object to same-sex marriage.   Gov. Cuomo immediately signed both bills into law. The New York Times has extensive coverage of the politics behind the governor's successful campaign to obtain passage of the legislation, reporting:
The story of how same-sex marriage became legal in New York is about shifting public sentiment and individual lawmakers moved by emotional appeals from gay couples who wish to be wed.
But, behind the scenes, it was really about a Republican Party reckoning with a profoundly changing power dynamic, where Wall Street donors and gay-rights advocates demonstrated more might and muscle than a Roman Catholic hierarchy and an ineffective opposition.
And it was about a Democratic governor, himself a Catholic, who used the force of his personality and relentlessly strategic mind to persuade conflicted lawmakers to take a historic leap.
The expanded religious protections were an important factor in obtaining final passage.  The protections apply to several categories of organizations and their employees: (1) religious entities, such as churches; (2) "benevolent orders", such as the Knights of Columbus; (3) any non-profit corporation operated, supervised or controlled by a religious corporation; (4) any employee of these organizations.

For these groups, notwithstanding any state or local law or regulation, they are not required to provide accommodations, facilities, goods or services for any marriage ceremony. Nor is any member of the clergy required to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.  Refusal to provide facilities or perform a ceremony will not give rise to any civil claim or to any governmental action discriminating against the groups or clergy or imposing a penalty or withholding benefits.  The new law also assures religious organizations that provisions in New York's anti-discrimination law that allow them to favor members of their own religion in employment, sales, rental of housing, admission or other preferences and to take other action to promote their religious principles, are still in effect.

The new law does not create exemptions for individuals with religious objections who own private businesses that offer their facilities for weddings to refuse to make them available for same-sex ceremonies.