Rules Are for Schmucks: Two Steps Backward

The State Capitol in Raleigh, NC.

By the time you read this, the Supreme Court may have issued its same-sex marriage ruling, which may (or may not) be seen as a great step forward toward a society that treats people fairly on their merits, leaving supernatural superstition out of the equation. Even if this happens, though, it will be one step forward and two steps back, because of the latest state-level cave-ins to religious special privilege in North Carolina and Michigan.

North Carolina is a state that saw several magistrates resign last year from their positions rather than carry out their duties to perform marriages for same-sex couples. Although it’s sad to see anyone express such religious bigotry, at least they were honest about it. The Christian right, though, screamed bloody murder over such modern day “martyrdom,” and sought legislation to bail out people who refuse to do their jobs. The legislature duly obliged, passing a bill that could fairly have been named the “Anti-Work Law.” It gives state workers the right to continue getting paid even if they refuse to perform their assigned duties—at least so far as those duties involve getting people married.

As I read the bill, state officials cannot pick and choose which marriages they will or will not perform. They have to either perform all marriages or none at all. I imagine this is to help shield against a future equal protection claim. But a Catholic who objects to remarriage for a divorced person, or a Jew who objects to interfaith marriage, or members of some Protestant sects who still haven’t reconciled themselves to interracial marriage, are now free to say: “Forget it—if I can’t have all marriages exactly the way I want them, I won’t do any marriages at all.” There’s sportsmanship for you!

After the legislature passed the bill, a strange thing happened. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, a conservative Republican who is personally opposed to same-sex marriage on religious grounds, took a look at his oath of office, and then he vetoed it. He has this bizarre idea that “[W]e are a nation and a state of laws. Whether it is the president, governor, mayor, a law enforcement officer, or magistrate, no public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath.”

McCrory thought it was bad government to allow state employees to pick and choose which laws they felt like following. He took intense heat from his own party for this, and the legislature overrode his veto. Standing up to the God industry has consequences, and I wouldn’t bet a lot on McCrory’s future in the Republican Party. But on rare occasions a public servant will put duty to the people as a whole ahead of partisan advantage. Even those who disagree with McCrory on every other issue should applaud his courage on this one.

McCrory’s action stands in stark contrast to the sleaziness displayed by Rich Snyder, Michigan’s Republican governor. Just two months ago, while neighboring Indiana was exploding over its Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Snyder solemnly promised that he would never sign a “religious freedom” bill in Michigan. So what did he just do? He signed an especially pernicious “religious freedom” bill. It seems that Catholic God experts are far more concerned with their theological niceties than they are with taking care of orphans who desperately need foster or adoptive homes. So their adoption agencies flatly refuse to place an orphan with any same-sex couple, without the slightest regard to whether that couple would make good parents. Whether they also refuse to place orphans with people previously divorced, people who lack belief in the power of exorcism, or other violators of Catholic doctrine, I don’t know. I do know that Michigan has thousands of orphans on a waiting list for good homes, and to refuse even to consider otherwise massively qualified potential parents because they happen to be the same sex is disgusting.

Most self-respecting states refuse to cave to Catholic pressure on this. When the battle was fought in nearby Illinois in 2011, the Catholic adoption agencies announced they would stop doing adoptions altogether if they weren’t allowed to treat gays like subhumans. On the playground where I grew up, the response to that kind of churlishness was normally along the lines of “See ya! Wouldn’t want to be ya!” So guess what happened when the Catholics quit Illinois? Their employees simply transferred seamlessly over to non-discriminating agencies. One previously Catholic agency in southern Illinois actually dissociated itself from the church so it could follow the law. Adoptions in Illinois are now proceeding apace—fairly and rationally. It’s called a free market, and it works. The same pattern happened in Massachusetts and DC: bigotry out, neutrality in. Research shows that children raised in LGBT families do just as well as children adopted by heterosexual families. In England, which last time I checked reports to the same pope as Illinois does, at least one Catholic adoption agency grudgingly consented to obey adoption neutrality laws.

Which is exactly what would be happening in Michigan, where half of the adoption funding runs through religion-riddled agencies, if it didn’t have a coward for a governor. Instead, they now have a law saying it’s perfectly ok for the state to have its adoption system run by haters. If that means more children rot in orphanages, too bad for them—the pope is more important than they are.

Interestingly, another Republican, former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, has now changed his mind on the gay adoption issue. Although he previously voted to ban gay adoption in the District of Columbia back in 1999, he now says: “Adoption, I would vote differently these days. That was a vote I think I took in my first term, in 1999 or 2000. I do believe that if there are children who are orphans who do not have a loving person or couple, I think if a person wants to love and raise a child they ought to be able to do that. Period. So, I would vote that way.”

So that’s two Republicans talking sense and two whole states not listening. Regardless of what the Supreme Court does on same-sex marriage, much work remains to be done.