With the recent events surrounding same-sex marriage in Utah, it was only a matter of time before conservative lawmakers began to react. HJR 1 – Joint Resolution on Religious Liberty from Representative Jacob Anderegg (Republican – Lehi) appears to be just that.
The Joint Resolution intends to modify Article I, Section 4 of Utah’s state constitution—the section that deals specifically with religious liberty within the state. Anderegg’s bill would add a specific sentence in the law reading “[n]o religious organization…may be required or compelled to solemnize, officiate in, or recognize a marriage or religious right of marriage in violation of their right of conscience or their free exercise of religion.”
The correlation between same-sex marriage and Anderegg’s intention is clear, though it could also be seen as a reaction to another recent court ruling which struck down the state’s ban on cohabitation between married and single adults, which effectively decriminalized polygamist relationships (although polygamists still cannot legally obtain marriage licenses with multiple spouses). What is unclear is the actual need for the legislation.
To date, no gay couples married in Utah (or anywhere else in the country that we’ve been able to find) have demanded that a church be forced to perform their marriage ceremonies, and multiple legal experts around the country have already testified that it is a virtual impossibility that any such case would even make it to court. The First Amendment guarantees religions’ right to practice as they see fit, and all gay marriage laws around the country pertain solely and specifically to civil law—the right of a couple to get married in a courthouse.
However, while Anderegg’s legislation seems to be written with the intent of being applied specifically towards religious organizations and religious clergy practicing within their official capacities, the language is vague enough that it could be misinterpreted and applied outside houses of worship—furthering the push by some conservative organizations to allow for employers and landlords to discriminate against LGBT citizens on the basis that their personal religious beliefs dictate they should do so.
As sexual orientation is not a protected class in the United States or in Utah, there would be no grounds for same-sex couples to bring lawsuit against a church—the law simply does not recognize that class as needing special protection. Even under current law, protected classes can still be discriminated against so long as harm isn’t present. Women, for example, can not hold clerical duties in many religious organizations.
In short, there is no law that requires religious organizations to recognize same-sex marriage and there is no judge that would require a religious organization to do so.
Amendments to the constitution must first receive a two-thirds approval vote in both the Utah House of Representatives and the State Senate. From there it is taken to the people, who must give majority support during the next election in November.
To contact Representative Anderegg, click here or call 801-901-3580
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker