(First, a note to the media: When you’re writing about a new law, post a link to the text of the new law. It shouldn’t be this hard to find. Kthx.)
What apparently led some of New York’s Republican lawmakers to support the Marriage Equality Act were the religious exemptions, protecting religious groups that object to same-sex marriage. This is one of the most common scare tactics raised by opponents of same-sex marriage, and one of the most dishonest: the Establishment Clause absolutely protects religious groups from having to administer their rites in violation of their faith. Same-sex marriage rites are about civil, not religious, marriage.
The “religious” protections are therefore redundant at best; these protections already exist, and not merely in the area of same-sex marriage. The only useful purpose they serve is cover. Same-sex marriage proponents can assure those who don’t understand the Establishment Clause, and politicians with more conservative constituents can trumpet their protection of the sanctity of marriage. This is particularly true as the law has a poison pill; it states that a court cannot simply overturn part of the law, such as the religious exemptions, but has to decide on the law as an all-or-nothing deal. This uses same-sex marriage as a sort of human shield; try to force a church to rent its gazebo to a gay couple and risk eliminating same-sex marriage entirely.
(Interestingly, groups opposed to same-sex marriage also oppose “religious protection” laws. The ostensible reason is that they don’t want anything that even hints that SSM is okay. The real reason is that it takes away one of their favorite arguments; it’s a lot harder to lie to people and tell them their churches will have to marry gay couples when there’s a law explicitly saying that can’t happen.)
Outside of same-sex marriage,it’s obvious that if you don’t like a religion’s rules, you can shut up and go to a different church, or to City Hall. We would laugh at a couple suing the Catholic Church because a priest refused to perform a marriage ceremony for two Protestants, or for a divorced Catholic seeking to marry a Buddhist. So would the courts. Yet even though there are likely far more interfaith and ‘rulebreaking’ couples who would like to marry than same-sex couples, neither churches nor lawmakers seem particularly concerned about protecting the sanctity of their religious practices.
Yet this seems unfair to religious groups. The Marriage Equality Act spells out quite clearly that it offers protections from civil actions to religious groups that object to same-sex marriage. But most religions have greater limitations on who can marry than “one man and one woman”. Where is the protection for faiths that prohibit interracial marriage? Why is there no protection for a church that refuses to rent “facilities” to interfaith couples? Why does the law exempt a rabbi refusing to marry a woman to a woman, but doesn’t protect a rabbi refusing to marry a Jew to a Gentile?
Obviously these are rhetorical questions; the reason is bigotry. Opponents of same-sex marriage simply don’t feel the same revulsion toward interfaith or interracial couples. And there’s a strong sense, among the less-zealous, that while a church may decline to marry such couples, that actually condemning those marriage is wrongheaded and, perhaps, even bigoted and unfair.
I look forward to the day when the majority recognizes that trying to stop same-sex couples from marrying at all is also bigoted and unfair.