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Text of religious exemption in New York marriage law | Hunter of Justice

Text of religious exemption in New York marriage law

by on June 24, 2011  •  In Marriage

The key language in the New York state marriage equality bill governing religious exemptions is as follows:

…[A] religious entity  … shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.  Any such refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges shall not create any civil claim or cause of action or result in any state or local government action to penalize, withhold benefits or discriminate against any such religious corporation, benevolent order or not-for-profit corporation.

Full text of the amendment is here. The language is similar to religious exemptions included in the marriage laws of Vermont and New Hampshire. Whatever the week-long fights and deals were about, it couldn't have been this language.

UPDATED – Some of the backstory on the language, from Gay City News:

The bill the Assembly passed in 2007 merely made clear that a member of the clergy was under no obligation to officiate at any marriage to which they objected. The wording contained in the governor’s bill on June 14, drawing on language already in state human rights law, also spelled out that religious bodies and benevolent associations can deny same-sex wedding celebrations access to facilities they operate without running afoul of public accommodations nondiscrimination requirements.

The language finally agreed to by the Senate and the Assembly went a couple of steps further. First, it added non-profit organizations run by religious organizations from the public accommodations requirements regarding marriage ceremonies and celebrations. It also immunized such organizations –– and now their employees as well –– and clergy not only from civil claims but also from adverse actions by state and local governments. For example, the non-profit day care center run by a church that refuses to marry same-sex couples cannot be barred from competing for public funding for which it would otherwise be eligible.

The new language also made clear that no other laws, including those enacted by local or municipal governments, could supercede the protections afforded religious groups in the marriage equality statute.

And it made the new law’s provisions non-severable –– that is, if one portion of the law is declared unconstitutional, it is thrown out entirely. Saland explained that provision was critical for him, and it clearly provides insurance for those who might worry that the religious protections built into the law could later be challenged in court.

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3 Responses to Text of religious exemption in New York marriage law

  1. J Philip Faranda June 25, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    That’s why they call them closed door sessions. I think they were trying to ascertain which Senators would have the least flack in their home district for doing the right thing and supporting the measure. The religious exemption was a red herring.

    Greg Ball actually got the religious protection verbiage strengthened (his only stated objection), yet still voted no.

  2. Rob June 26, 2011 at 11:32 AM

    Actually, it strikes me that the key language is this:

    NOTWITHSTANDING ANY … RULE … NOTHING IN THIS ARTICLE SHALL LIMIT OR DIMINISH THE RIGHT … OF ANY RELIGIOUS OR DENOMINATIONAL INSTITUTION … TO LIMIT EMPLOYMENT OR SALES OR RENTAL OF HOUSING ACCOMMODATIONS OR ADMISSION TO OR GIVE PREFERENCE TO PERSONS OF THE SAME RELIGION OR DENOMINATION OR FROM TAKING SUCH ACTION AS IS CALCULATED BY SUCH ORGANIZATION TO PROMOTE THE RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLES FOR WHICH IT IS ESTABLISHED OR MAINTAINED.

    Doesn’t that sound like an unlimited right to discriminate, if you’re a “religious institution”? For me, the right not to perform the celebration of a marriage is a no-brainer – churches have always had the right to decide for themselves who they will marry.

    On the other hand, as has been pointed out elsewhere, take the case of hospitals. Hospitals run by religious organizations probably can’t refuse care to gay people under federal law, but this language sounds like it gives them the right to keep gay spouses out, on the basis that allowing a man to visit his husband in the hospital doesn’t “promote the religious principles for which it [the hospital] is established or maintained”. I can easily imagine a Catholic hospital taking such a stance.

  3. Nan Hunter June 26, 2011 at 5:37 PM

    The text you quote is the language of the religious exemption in the already existing New York state anti-discrimination law. The marriage bill simply says that it does not alter or limit this existing law. See New York Executive Law Article 15, Section 296 (11). It’s on page 26 of this document: link to dhr.state.ny.us

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