Monday, April 27, 2009

ACLU of Iowa and the Alliance Defense Fund on religious-liberty exception for state wedding registrars

04/28/09 NY Times:

The NY Times reports widespread compliance by county recorders in issuing marriage licenses to over 200 same-sex couples today. (See the Washington Times on state Senator Merlin Bartz's "petition drive last week aimed at encouraging county recorders to reject marriage applications from same-sex couples until Iowans are able to vote on a same-sex marriage referendum.")

04/24/09 Iowa Independent:

"Caught in an interesting position between State Sen. Merlin Bartz (R-Grafton) on one side and same-sex marriage advocates on the other, the Iowa ACLU determined today that it would represent any same-sex couples who are denied marriage licenses by a county recorder while also offering to defend the man who is asking county recorders to deny them ...The Alliance Defense Fund, an organization founded by evangelical activists to counterbalance the ACLU, has already offered to defend county recorders against same-sex couples should they choose to defy the court." (For more on the role of ADF, see this 04/26/09 article of the Catholic News Agency.)

Will this controversy over county recorders prove to be a tempest in a teapot? Or is the Alliance Defense Fund right that county recorders may deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples if county recorders would otherwise violate tenets of religious faith? According to several legal scholars, the answer may depend on whether the result imposes substantive - and not just "symbolic" - harm on same-sex couples who apply for marriage licenses. (Of course, it's hardly unambiguous to try to distinguish between "substantive" and "symbolic" harm.)

These legal scholars are debating the proper extent of religious-liberty exemption in marriage equality legislation. In the context of this debate, several proponents of exemption for individuals offer the following observation on wedding registrars:

"If one wedding registrar objects to memorializing the marriage but another is immediately available, is there any measurable harm [to a same-sex couple seeking a marriage license] that's not merely symbolic? We think that putting a state employee to a choice between her faith and her job should require something more."

Source of article reference: Gay Marriage Watch

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