Apparently it’s a good compromise to allow same-sex couples the same basic benefits as straight couples, while enshrining into the law the right of organizations to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
The authors, one of whom works for a religious group and the other of whom favors marriage equality, argue that we need to compromise now so that we can re-visit this issue in a few years, when the discourse is “calmer.” Here’s the compromise:
It would work like this: Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. But there would be a condition: Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide that religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own. All of these changes would be enacted in the same bill.
The tricky language comes in when they say that “religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will.” The First Amendment covers religious freedom pretty well, and I’d be very surprised if any place of worship was forced to perform same-sex marriages. But they want to go further than that:
But religious organizations are also involved in many activities outside the sanctuary. What if a church auxiliary or charity is told it must grant spousal benefits to a secretary who marries her same-sex partner or else face legal penalties for discrimination based on sexual orientation or marital status? What if a faith-based nonprofit is told it will lose its tax-exempt status if it refuses to allow a same-sex wedding on its property?
What if those things happened? I say bring it on. If you’re getting huge tax breaks from the government — tax breaks that are subsidized by all tax-payers, not just the straight ones — then sorry, but no, you don’t get to discriminate in your hiring and workplace practicies. But here’s the kicker:
Linking federal civil unions to guarantees of religious freedom seems a natural way to give the two sides something they would greatly value while heading off a long-term, take-no-prisoners conflict. That should appeal to cooler heads on both sides, and it also ought to appeal to President Obama, who opposes same-sex marriage but has endorsed federal civil unions. A successful template already exists: laws that protect religious conscience in matters pertaining to abortion. These statutes allow Catholic hospitals to refuse to provide abortions, for example. If religious exemptions can be made to work for as vexed a moral issue as abortion, same-sex marriage should be manageable, once reasonable people of good will put their heads together.