Slippery Slope

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Let's talk slippery slopes. Social conservatives like to say that letting gay couples marry will undermine the state's ability to control polygamy, pedophilia and -- as Rick "man on dog" Santorum famously forecast -- bestiality. But after eight years of marriage equality in Mitt's Massachusetts, none of those downhill predictions has come to pass.

What has swept down the mountain is an avalanche of social conservatives claiming a constitutional right to be exempt from laws they disagree with on religious grounds. The recent demand that church-affiliated hospitals and universities be excused from a federal law requiring employers to cover birth control in their health plans is the same extreme maneuver that failed in California eight years ago. Religious objectors then snow-plowed into a San Diego court, where a medical group that specialized in women's care insisted on a free pass from anti-discrimination laws, after telling a lesbian that their Christian beliefs prevented them from helping her conceive a child.

Last year, Rhode Island lawmakers nearly wiped out a new civil unions law by letting religiously affiliated businesses simply ignore any civil union, raising the prospect that a Catholic hospital could again legally deny a gay man the right to see his ill partner. And a bill allowing private adoption agencies to deny placements to gay applicants on religious grounds just freestyled its way through the Republican-dominated Virginia legislature.

Despite conservative rhetoric, none of these religious exemptions is required by the U.S. Constitution. Two decades ago, the Supreme Court made clear, in an opinion written by the severely conservative Justice Scalia, that religious beliefs don't excuse compliance with valid laws that apply generally, even if the law has the side effect of burdening a particular religious practice.

So this ice storm of religious exemptions is not about law, but politics -- and the slippery slope of ensuring that social conservatives are free to discriminate against those who don't conform to their beliefs.


With a Perspective, I'm Clyde Wadsworth.