First Amendment Defense Act Would Protect Those Morally Opposed to Same-Sex Marriage

NJ Spotlight News | July 16, 2015 | Politics, Religion
The First Amendment Defense Act would prohibit taking action against those who religiously oppose same-sex marriage.

By Michael Hill

Tim Eustace is a chiropractor of 30-plus years. Is there an instance where he would deny someone treatment based on his own morals or religious beliefs?

“Never. Never. I can’t,” he said.

Eustace is also an openly gay state assemblyman. His Bergen County district falls within the Fifth Congressional District of Scott Garrett. Garrett and Fourth District Congressman Chris Smith are co-sponsors of the First Amendment Defense Act — a bill that would forbid the government from taking any action against someone who “believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.”

“There are theocracies in the world, and if the congressman feels he needs to represent a theocracy, Iran is one,” Eustace said.

Garrett’s and Smith’s congressional aides did not reply to our multiple emails and phone calls requesting interviews.

But, Len Deo, who founded the New Jersey Family Policy Council, did reply.

“Nobody should be forced to do something that truly violates their deeply held religious beliefs,” Deo said.

June 26 — tears and cheers greeted the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. But, a week before, opponents had introduced the “First Amendment Defense Act” — same-sex marriage versus so-called “religious liberty.”

“This is where law and liberty collide,” Deo said.

“It is absolutely retrograde,” said Garden State Equality Executive Director Andrea Bowen.

Bowen says she takes offense to the bill that was co-sponsored by two congressmen from the state with the best protections for the LGBT community.

“This piece of legislation is so contrary not only to the Constitution but to the spirit of the state of New Jersey. It just sickens me that they’re supporting this really horrible act,” she said.

In 2007, a Methodist organization did not allow a lesbian couple to have a civil union ceremony at the Ocean Grove Boardwalk Pavilion. New Jersey took away the pavilion’s tax-exempt status.

Critics of the bill say it shows belief is one thing but acting on it is something completely different and they say those who favor the bill should practice “judge not, lest ye be judged.”

“Well they’re not being judged. I would have to say nobody’s saying that they’re wrong. What the person, the owner of that establishment, does that owner, when they walk through the door, do they have to leave their deeply held religious beliefs at the door?” Deo asked.

“I don’t think anybody should be forced to do anything they feel against their religion, but if they feel that their business would be problematic to other people’s religions or other people’s lifestyles, they should consider doing something in their own private sector,” Eustace said.

While some may argue this is about public accommodation, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, while it opened lunch counters and doors to many Americans, it does not contain one syllable that mentions gays and lesbians. No mention, no protection.

“The Constitution allows legislation that enforces constitutional rights. But, the details are where things get tricky,” said Seton Hall University Pre-Law Advisor Robert Pallitto.

Pallitto cites the Bob Jones University case for example. The university said God wanted to keep the races separate so the school banned interracial relationships. The IRS stripped the university of its tax exemption and the Supreme Court upheld it.

“There is an argument to say that violating someone’s constitutional rights out of your own right to exercise religious beliefs would be illegal and could be proscribed,” Pallitto said.

Deo says there’s room for compromise — a religious accommodation, as he calls it. Like getting a wedding invitation. You either send regrets or RSVP.

“It’s the same as getting an invitation to participate in a ceremony and a person should have the right to make that choice. Yes or no,” Deo said.

“The Constitution involves supporting all of us or representing all of our citizens, not excluding certain citizens,” Eustace said.

The bill reads the decision — unlike the same-sex marriage issue — should be decided “legislatively.” In other words, by lawmakers, not the courts.