Does Religion Trump SCOTUS' Gay Marriage Ruling?

A ruling by the Supreme Court Friday confirmed the legality and constitutionality of same-sex marriage, throwing the political and ecclesiastical world into chaos — positive chaos, of course, but a disruption to the status quo nonetheless. Scores of rights once denied to LGBTQ couples, such as joint tax filings and healthcare benefits, have now been opened to a broader community, bringing further debate over personal liberty under the microscope, as businesses who once declined to recognize same-sex partnerships have now been called up to change those policies. But for the most stubborn among them, questions over religious exemptions from the gay marriage ruling are also on the docket.

Like the infamous healthcare mandate waivers of 2012, the right has been stressing over the legality of requiring all businesses and organizations to recognize same-sex marriages, and the rights that come with it, for some time. For all the celebration over the passage of the Affordable Healthcare Act two years earlier, the left hit a major roadblock when politicians realized that petitions from a variety of companies for equally varying reasons had left a recognizable dent in their plans.

That same year, Director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council Jeanne Monahan wrote in a U.S. News op-ed that a specific contraceptive mandate in the newly established ACA violated the rights of businesses whose owners held deep-rooted religious beliefs, or institutions that didn’t fit the administration’s narrow definitions for exemption from that portion of the law. Monahan called the mandates an “affront to religious freedom.”

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“The vast majority of faith-based organizations do not meet the stringent criteria ... including employing only people belonging to their religions and having as a primary purpose inculcation of religious tenets,” wrote Monahan. “For the first time in our country's history, we have a president who has decided that when he disagrees with certain religious or moral practices, he can force people to act against their consciences.”

Despite Monahan’s claims, just three years after her statements in March 2015, the Supreme Court agreed to take up arguments out of the University of Notre Dame against the contraceptive mandates, which claimed that the law violated the school’s religious rights. The mandates, they argued, were detrimental to their beliefs because, although the school offered third-party healthcare coverage (not their own), the mere fact that they were required to allow students and employees the opportunity to purchase outside health insurance, with which they might obtain full contraceptive coverage, was bad enough.

“[SCOTUS’ agreement to hear arguments] is a strong signal that the Supreme Court will ultimately reject the government's narrow view of religious liberty,” explained Mark Rienzi, a lawyer with religious rights group Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in an interview with Reuters this March.

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The agreement came on the heels of a historic SCOTUS decision to allow the craft and art supply chain Hobby Lobby exemption from a provisional mandate requiring companies to allow employees access to the morning-after pill. According to founder David Green, a strongly religious man belonging to the Protestant Pentecostal Assembly of God, and his representatives, the mandate requiring them to provide healthcare coverage for “abortion-inducing drugs” like Plan-B infringed on their spiritual practices. After months of consideration, the High Court issued its ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, giving the company the right to ban coverage of certain types of birth control methods.

According to The Chicago Tribune, some 27 similar businesses had also filed similar lawsuits against the government claiming that separate healthcare mandates went against their religious beliefs — the Hobby Lobby decision was not the last victory for advocates of religious liberty.

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Thanks in part to the sweeping Hobby Lobby decision, the doors were immediately opened in 2014 to several lawsuits in regard to the topic of LGBTQ equality. In April this year, the state of Indiana attempted to pass the notoriously divisive Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which they argued protected businesses against pressure from the LGBTQ community — bakeries that refused to make wedding cakes for gay weddings or adoption agencies looking to avoid lawsuits from same-sex couples who had been rejected, for example.

Opponents of the measure argued that the bill gave for-profit companies the same status as individuals — a broadly written statement that could give way to scores of discriminatory behavior. After state Democrats put up a fight, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was forced to call on the legislature to issue a clarification to the measure which made discriminatory practices more difficult to achieve under the law, and Pence signed the newly drafted measure a week after the initial issue. But no matter what the outcome, the argument now stands: How far can states and for-profit companies push to get their religious way?

Whatever their timeline following the SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling, there is no doubt that certain parties will wage war against the inevitable change the so many in the country have fought hard to achieve — the only thing left to do now is sit and wait for that wave to crest.

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