Experts in the law have concluded that the pending Illinois same-sex marriage bill would be the worst in the U.S. in protecting religious liberty.
Writing on behalf of legal experts from around the country, Thomas Brejcha, President & Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Society, and Peter Breen, the firm's Vice President & Senior Counsel sent a letter to Illinois state representatives today explaining the danger Illinois' same-sex marriage bill (SB10) poses to individual religious liberty and freedom of conscience. The letter reads:
We strongly encourage you to oppose Senate Bill 10, creating “same-sex marriage” in Illinois, because – in addition to other fatal flaws – the bill utterly fails to protect the religious liberty of Illinoisans. Law professors on both sides of the marriage issue agree that Senate Bill 10 provides the worst religious liberty protection of any same-sex marriage bill in the country.
Senate Bill 10 represents an unprecedented restriction of religious liberty rights. Other states that allow same-sex marriage, including Connecticut, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington, recognize the importance of protecting religious freedom in connection with creating same-sex marriage. As the attached letter from a group of legal scholars shows, these states’ same-sex marriage laws include numerous forms of protection for their citizens from having “to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges . . . related to the solemnization of a marriage.” (p. 5). SB 10 provides no such protection.
Under Senate Bill 10, religious individuals or organizations may be designated as “discriminators” and stripped of their government benefits or subject to penalty because they honor their faith commitments. Religious obligations go far beyond to the “solemnizing” of marriage at formal ceremonies. Religious individuals and organizations also provide medical care, education, and social services, but SB 10 is silent as to these individuals and organizations. What of the hospital run by religious sisters that does not provide same-sex spousal benefits? Will the sisters be denied government contracts or tax exemptions – or will injunctions be entered to force the sisters to disavow their faith? Will religious colleges that refuse to acknowledge the validity of same-sex marriages have their accreditation revoked? Will private adoption agencies, already forbidden from receiving government funding, be forced to place children with same-sex couples or shut down entirely? While the answers to these questions may be unclear, what is clear is that SB 10 will force religious people and organizations into years of legal fights, likely against the Illinois government, to defend their right to practice their faith.
Senate Bill 10 provides no protection to religious organizations and schools against those who seek to force their facilities to hold same-sex marriage-related events and to hire employees in same-sex marriages. SB 10 includes a section protecting churches from being forced to use a parish hall for a same-sex wedding, but it is silent as to whether the Knights of Columbus or similar groups will be forced to open their facilities to same-sex weddings. Indeed, in New Jersey, when a Methodist organization refused to host same-sex unions on their property, they lost their tax-exempt status and were fined $20,000!
Senate Bill 10 may force individuals to surrender their livelihoods in order to follow their consciences. SB 10 provides no protections for individuals who make their living by providing goods and services for the celebration of weddings, such as cake bakers, florists, and venue owners. Under SB 10, people of faith running these businesses would be faced with the choice of either closing their business or facilitating a ceremony that violates their religious beliefs. Already, a downstate bed & breakfast owner has been dragged before the Illinois Human Rights Commission to defend its decision not to host same-sex civil unions. In New Mexico, a Christian photographer has been forced to appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court for expressing her religious liberty to decline to participate in a lesbian commitment ceremony. SB 10 is also silent on the plight of professionals such as doctors, social workers, and counselors who object to same-sex marriage – will they be forced to violate their consciences or have their licenses revoked?
Senate Bill 10 leaves religious individuals with less protection under the law than their religious leaders. Under SB 10, only an individual “acting as a representative of a religious denomination” is protected from participating in the solemnization of a same-sex wedding. SB 10 provides no protection for those who hold deep religious convictions but are not official representatives of their respective religions. If our laws fail to protect religious believers in the practice of their religion, then their purported respect for religion is a sham and meaningless.
A “yes” vote is a vote against equal rights for people of faith. As our prior memo to you showed, same-sex couples were granted every legal right available under state law by Illinois’ civil union statute. Instead of being a “Religious Freedom” bill, SB 10 will devastate the liberties of individuals, businesses, religious organizations, and religious charities all across our State of Illinois.
We urge you to vote “no” on Senate Bill 10.
Very truly yours,
President & Chief Counsel
Vice President & Senior Counsel