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December 3, 2012

Holy matrimony and civic unions, Part II

(Continued)

"The other question," Carlson-Thies said, "is whether those on the cultural left will be willing, at this point, to settle for civil unions. ... We will need people on both sides to work together if there are going to be meaningful compromises."

One divisive issue in these gay-marriage debates overlaps with current fights over White House mandates requiring most religious institutions to offer health care plans covering sterilizations and all FDA-approved forms of contraception, including so-called "morning-after pills." These Health and Human Services requirements recognize the conscience rights of employers only if they are nonprofits that have the "inculcation of religious values" as their primary purpose, primarily employ "persons who share ... religious tenets" and primarily serve those "who share ... religious tenets."

Critics insist this protects mere "freedom of worship," not the First Amendment's wider "free exercise of religion."

Here is the parallel: In gay-marriage debates, almost everyone concedes that clergy must not be required to perform same-sex rites that violate their consciences.The question is whether legislatures and courts will extend protection to religious hospitals, homeless shelters, summer camps, day care centers, counseling facilities, adoption agencies and similar public ministries. What about religious colleges that rent married-student apartments or seek accreditation for their degrees in education, counseling or social work? What about the religious-liberty rights of individuals who work as florists, wedding photographers, wedding cake bakers, counselors who do pre- or post-marital counseling and other similar forms of business?

These are only some of the thorny issues that worry many activists on both sides of the gay-rights divide. Shortly after Connecticut legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, law professor Douglas Laycock, then of the University of Michigan, shared his support for religious exemptions in a letter to state leaders.

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