Would Jesus Bake a Cake for a Gay Wedding in Arizona?
As Arizona's controversial SB 1062 lands on the desk of Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, the exclamation mark this outgoing politician will leave with her pen underscores whether she believes the bill is a distraction from core issues or a necessary step to protect religious freedom.
The Arizona bill would allow people who object to same-sex marriage to use their religious beliefs as a defense in a discrimination lawsuit. (CT recently explored evangelicals' favorite same-sex marriage laws, noting the current range of religious exemptions).
Similar legislation has been introduced in nine other states. A bill in Kansas sparked conflict among Christians after Kirsten Powers, whose testimony was CT's No. 1 most-read story of 2013, published a column for USA Today saying that "Christians backing this bill are essentially arguing for homosexual Jim Crow laws." Powers ends the column by asking, "What would Jesus Do?" insisting that Jesus would bake the cake for a same-sex wedding.
Powers quoted evangelical pastor Andy Stanley as saying it's "offensive that Christians would leverage faith to support the Kansas law."
While the Kansas bill explicitly allows businesses and individuals to deny services to gays and lesbians, Arizona's law is worded more broadly to apply to anything that could violate a person's religious conscience. Joe LaRue, an attorney at the Alliance Defending Freedom, helped draft Arizona's SB 1062.
"In America, people should be free to live and work according to their faith, and the government shouldn't be able to tell us we can't do that," LaRue told The New York Times.
Proponents of Arizona's law cite a case last fall when the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled a photographer, Elaine Huguenin, broke the state's anti-discrimination law by refusing to document a same-sex ceremony. [The story was CT's No. 9 most-read blog of 2013.] Colorado and Washington had similar decisions ruling a baker and a florist can't send away same-sex customers for religious reasons.
New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Bosson wrote in his ruling that while Elaine and her husband are "free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish," the public accommodation of differing beliefs is "the price of citizenship."
The Arizona bill would expand those protected under the state's free exercise of religion law to "any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution or other business organization."
Finding a balance will be hard to navigate, said Douglas Laycock, a professor at University of Virginia Law School.
"It's hard to get the middle that protects the rights of gay individuals to marry and protects the rights of those who don't want to participate," Laycock told Religion News Service. "Both gay rights and religious liberty people want rights for their side but not for the other."
Josh Kredit, legal counsel of the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative group that supports the bill, identifies the impact of the same-sex marriage movement on religious freedom.
"We see a growing hostility toward religion," Kredit told Time. "These are intentional, purposeful distractions to try to kill this bill."
Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission at the Southern Baptist Convention has recently jumped into the debate about whether wedding photographers should record same-sex weddings.
Moore wrote in a Gospel Coalition column that "the couple asking you to do this wedding aren't your enemies. They are made in the image of God and loved by him and so should be loved by us." But Moore advised against participating, saying, "But we must stand with kindness as well as with conviction."
Powers and Jonathan Merritt disagreed with Moore in a Daily Beast column, as both sides posted responses criticizing each other's stance on the topic.
Arizona is poised to impact the momentum of the same-sex marriage vs. religious freedom debate as it is one of the first bills fully passed through the legislature that has made its way to the governor's desk. This week it will be either vetoed or signed into law.