“The religious freedom argument is off,” said Marc Solomon, a key figure in the long-haul grassroots campaign that has been dropping jaws over the last five years by winning the right for gay couples to marry in state after state all around the country. “I think the images of people being kept out of restaurants and stores — that is familiar to Americans. They’ll see it as discrimination. I think those efforts will fall apart.”
Colorado lawmakers today are weighing two “religious freedom” bills that seek to protect conservative Christians acting in the public sphere from discrimination lawsuits. Similar religious freedom laws have been proposed in a half dozen states around the country but they have yet to take hold, despite lots of money and effort spent on the campaigns behind them.
Solomon thinks he knows why that is the case, partly because he knows what makes political issue campaigns succeed. He is national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, the organization at the forefront of the marriage movement since 2003, and last year he wrote the best book to date on the campaign, Winning Marriage. He was here in Denver in December, so I asked him about the religious freedom movement, which has gained prominence at the same time equal rights for gay people have advanced, which is no coincidence. Solomon thinks the movement is running up against the powerful, graphic history of civil rights in the United States.
He talked about the failure of controversial Senate Bill 1062 in Arizona, passed by the legislature but vetoed by conservative Gov. Jan Brewer after a national backlash from the public and from business interests.
“[T]he religious freedom argument, I think it’s an attempt to conflate the two issues — objections to same-sex marriage and the absolute guarantee of the Constitution that no one can be made in the religious arena to act against their faith: a Catholic priest can’t be made to marry a person who divorced, and an Orthodox rabbi can’t be made to perform an interfaith marriage,” he said. “The [religious freedom] argument is off. They’re confusing that protection, making it an excuse to discriminate in the public square. It’s about not being comfortable with someone and so refusing to serve them. I think that’s a dangerous place they’re going. It’s a vivid line in our country’s history. Americans know what that looks like.
“The religious freedom law sailed through the legislature in [Arizona], but in practice it was clear it would be a license to discriminate. Businesses across industries brought pressure to kill it.”
[Photo via Todd Franson for Freedom to Marry.]