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NY Majority Leader Skelos Again Says No Decision on Marriage Equality Vote, Citing Concern for Religious Exemptions

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According to reports on Twitter, GOP Majority Leader Dean Skelos emerged from an hours-long conference moments ago in Albany to say that there were still concerns about religious exemptions in the bill and that conferencing on it would continue.

Skelos said that they want to make sure provisions exist to protect the Catholic Church and other religious institutions, saying there are worries over "unintended consequences" of religous clauses in the bill.

Clarification from Capitol Confidential:

...Skelos said Cuomo’s office was “receptive” to negotiating. He wants members to feel “comfortable” that, if the bill is reported to the floor and passes, no social services provided by religious organizations will be halted as a result.

“With our conference, this is going to be a very deliberative process, and members on both sides of the issue are raising similar concerns,” he said. Such additional provisions may be considered in a chapter amendment — the Assembly passed a same-sex marriage bill submitted Cuomo — or in a new bill, that would have to pass both houses.

This creates an issue of trust for Republicans: if they come up with language that makes Republican members comfortable bringing the main bill to the floor, they’d need some assurance that the Assembly will also pass it. That would require a deal with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Cuomo.

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Comments

  1. last time I read about this the "religious institutions" that the senator wanted to protect were individuals who owned businesses such as florists, caterers, photographers, rental halls etc. He wanted these individual business owners to be able to discriminate against same-sex couples because of their religious beliefs without having to worry about the state laws on public accommodations which they would be violating by refusing service to same-sex couples. Of course, these are individuals and not religious "institutions". But, these are the type of examples this senator described the other day.

    Posted by: Tim NC | Jun 17, 2011 2:02:59 PM


  2. I just really find it hard to believe the Republicans are negotiating in good faith here. This claim of needing more religious protection is just cover, I'm afraid.

    Posted by: Glenn | Jun 17, 2011 2:03:19 PM


  3. This is a smoke screen, a poor excuse the only reason why charitable services ever cease is because the "religous" organization chooses too. No Goverment entity has ever forced a charitable organization to close. Stupid!

    Posted by: Reverend Joseph Shore-Goss | Jun 17, 2011 2:07:28 PM


  4. @ Tim NC

    Clearly that's the language Sen. Ball wants in a bill if it is to get his support. However, Gov. Cuomo has said that nothing like Ball's language is go into the bill.

    Other states have more comprehensive protections in their marriage equality bills and I think that is where the more reasonable of the moveable Republican are starting and aiming.

    For example, from what I have read of the bill is that a religious organization cannot be sued, but it isn't clear if an employee at that organization is safe from a lawsuit. In other words, I can't sue the Knights of Columbus, but can I sue their office manager?

    Posted by: searunner | Jun 17, 2011 2:25:40 PM


  5. I'm not a Catholic, why should the church be able to tell me who I can marry.

    I'm sick and tired of religious institutions taking state money to run their "charities" and then turning around and shouting foul when asked to observe anti-discrimination laws.

    Posted by: D. | Jun 17, 2011 2:31:54 PM


  6. @Searunner I would be fine with them clarifying protections for employees of religious institution. But, I would not support any protections allowing the church to refuse adoption services to same-sex couples that are funded with tax dollars.

    Now, with your example of the Knights of Columbus... I know they are an organization affiliated with the Catholic Church. But, in most cases they have facilities that they rent out to the public for receptions, parties etc. So, I think if they want to be able to discriminate against same-sex couples from renting their facilities, then, I think they should be required to only rent their facilities to their church members. If they are going to offer those facilities for rent to the "public", that means ALL of the public.

    Posted by: Tim NC | Jun 17, 2011 2:42:28 PM


  7. There's been much confusion about the extent of the religious exemptions being proposed by fence-sitting Republicans in the discussions over New York's marriage equality bill, over the extent of the exemptions offered by the Governor's bill and over the extent of the exemptions afforded by bills enacted or proposed in other states. I know I've felt uninformed, in any event.

    This letter written by a Washington and Lee law professor (bio here: http://law.wlu.edu/faculty/profiledetail.asp?id=216 ) is useful in understanding these issues: http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/70925/religious-protections-state-by-state/ It is also helpful to read Greg Ball's message of yesterday outlining the areas where he is suggesting the Governor's bill inadequately protects religious freedoms: http://www.capitaltonight.com/2011/06/ball-outlines-opposition-to-cuomo-bill/

    My thoughts:

    Difference #1 Identified by Professor Wilson: The San Francisco Salvation Army Example: Should an organization like the Salvation Army be exempt from providing benefits to its employees' same-sex partners? I can't say that I'm completely comfortable with this since the Salvation Army is not a church. On the other hand, learning that this was expressly allowed by the Connecticut, New Hampshire and D.C. laws makes me less concerned that we are creating a bad new precedent for future marriage equality bills. I am probably even less troubled by the possibility of expressly allowing fraternal organizations like the Knights of Columbus to limit insurance coverage to same-sex spouses.

    Difference #2 Identified by Professor Wilson: Adoption and Foster Care: Apparently only Connecticut has included an exemption with respect to adoption and foster care placement in a marriage equality bill and I'm less troubled by the Connecticut exemption than I am by some of the broader exemptions that have been proposed with respect to adoption and foster care. In fact, specifically addressing adoption and foster care in the manner in which Connecticut apparently has is arguably preferable to the vague treatment of the topic by the Governor's proposed bill, since the Governor's bill could be interpreted to allow an exemption broader than the one allowed by the Connecticut law. The Connecticut law expressly allows religiously-affiliated adoption or foster care agencies to place children only with heterosexual married couples so long as they don't get any government funding. Not sure that this would satisfy the proponents of discrimination since I would think that most or all religiously-affiliated agencies rely to some extent on government funding to be able to operate. Personally, while I am uncomfortable with the idea that any group working as the agent of the state in placing children who are wards of the state would be authorized to discriminate against gay and lesbian people, I could probably live with it if the authorization were limited, as in Connecticut, to groups receiving no government funding.

    Differences #3 and #4 Identified by Professor Wilson: Exemption of Employees of Religious Organizations from Celebrating Same-Sex Marriages and Exemption of Religious Organizations from Providing Counseling, Retreats or Programs to Same-Sex Married Couples: While apparently only New Hampshire so far has afforded these exemptions, I am not troubled by them. I can't imagine what gay or lesbian person would want to seek relationship counseling at a Baptist Church. I imagine the therapy session would go something like this: "You're going to burn in hell, missies. Repent now! Here are some pamphlets on our reparative therapy program. Have you met Dr. Reikers? He and his luggage assistant will be guiding you."

    More significantly than some of the foregoing, Professor Wilson's letter also notes that the Governor's proposed bill would afford no protection to "ordinary individuals" such as "[b]akers, photographers, seamstresses, florists and B&B owners who, for religious reasons prefer to step aside from celebrating or facilitating same-sex marriages" and who may, if they refuse to provide their services to same-sex couples, be subject to suit under the state's anti-discrimination law. If I read Professor Wilson's letter correctly, no state which has thus far recognized marriage equality has used its marriage equality law to also authorize discrimination by individuals or businesses providing services and I don't know why New York should start down that road. To the extent that Ball and his cohorts are holding out for broader exemptions for individuals or private businesses which would allow them to contravene the Human Rights Act on the basis of their religion-based or allegedly religion-based bigotry, I think their efforts should be resisted.

    As for the particular concerns raised in Ball's message of yesterday:

    Point #1: About whom is he speaking when he refers to "church-related agencies"? To the extent he is actually talking about churches and agencies run by churches, that makes Ball's proposals more palatable. I don't know the extent to which churches are already free to refuse to hire gay or lesbian people, even for clerical positions or on the cleaning staff, etc., but I would think that the Human Rights Act generally doesn't touch them. Similarly, though I don't know how the Establishment Clause has been or would be interpreted in cases such as this, I am not particularly troubled by allowing churches - stressing that I am more comfortable with this in the case of churches than in the case of, say, the Salvation Army - to withhold benefits from same-sex spouses of their employees. What are the actions which Ball is suggesting should not result in a denial of funding by government agencies to "provide charitable and health services"? If he is suggesting that church-related agencies should be permitted to receive government funding and still discriminate against gay people in, for instance, adoption or foster care placement, I find that objectionable. Agencies should not be permitted to use tax funds collected from all of us for the purpose of discriminating against some of us. As noted above, I believe Connecticut was more than generous in allowing church-related agencies to discriminate against gay and lesbian people in adoption and foster care placement but providing that, if they wish to do so, they must be on their own dime.

    Point #2: I can't get too worked up about churches being allowed to refuse to rent out their facilities for same-sex weddings, even if they are otherwise made available generally to members of the public regardless of factors such as religion, etc. Again, once we move away from churches to organizations or individuals with links to churches, this becomes a bigger concern for me.

    Point #3: I think the issue raised here is similar to the first issue raised by Professor Wilson and discussed above. As with all of these issues, the biggest questions for me are: (i) are we talking about allowing exemptions for churches or other organizations, businesses or individuals? and (ii) have other states offered the exemption or protection being proposed? For instance, should an adoption or foster care agency be denied a license because it refuses to place children with gay or lesbian parents? Perhaps not but, at a minimum, as in Connecticut that agency should not be allowed to receive any state funding if it chooses to discriminate as such.

    I have also heard it suggested by some that government clerks should be exempted from participation in the issuance of marriage licenses if they object on religious grounds. While I don't see that being specifically advocated by Ball, that should be a non-starter. Government employees should not be allowed to discriminate.

    Here's what some equality-supporting local religious leaders have to stay about the efforts in these discussion of those religious leaders who favor discrimination: http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/71307/faith-leaders-on-carveouts-just-fine-or-insufficient/

    Unfortunate that we have to go through all this nonsense but it's necessary because progressives didn't turn out last November, causing us to lose the seats of two marriage equality supporters by handfuls of votes and to fail to pick up Ball's seat by only 2,000 votes. Though I think there is a lot of insincere grandstanding here by Ball and other Republicans, I also suspect that they see some downside to killing this in their efforts to retain their majority in the 2012 elections or this would likely be over by now.

    Posted by: Patric | Jun 17, 2011 3:20:10 PM


  8. GOP swears oath to the Bible (religion) VICE the Constitution!!!

    Posted by: CB | Jun 17, 2011 4:11:18 PM


  9. @Tim NC: I've been thinking about the adoption issue in NY. The thing is, adoption agencies there have already gone thru this when the anti-discrimination bill was passed. Agencies in NY that get gov't funding cannot discriminate against gay couples regarding adoption. I don't think the Republicans are asking to change this, because everything they're asking for is specific to marriage. They would have to ask for language specifically stating that religious-driven agencies can discriminate against gay couples in re adoptions, and they're simply not doing that here.

    @Patric: Actually, I believe the Salvation Army is officially a church, with a hierarchy and some pretty draconian rules for its members/employees. I boycott them profusely.

    Posted by: Bruno | Jun 17, 2011 5:07:22 PM


  10. @ Tim NC

    Like Patric (see his very lengthy and detailed response), I'm less inclined to get too worked up over churches and clearly religious groups being forced to provide services, unless they receive tax-payer funding.

    I don't think fleshing out the exemptions will weaken the bill, provided the fleshing out is with regards to churches and religious organizations only. And I'm hoping that this is what the more reasonable GOP Senators are aiming to do.

    Posted by: searunner | Jun 17, 2011 5:19:43 PM


  11. Bruno, turns out that you're correct about the Salvation Army.

    While I agree with you that agencies in New York receiving government funding cannot currently under the law discriminate against gay and lesbian people in adoption and foster care services, as observed in a great letter sent yesterday by the marriage equality supporting Democrat who narrowly and unfortunately lost to Greg Ball last November - http://polhudson.lohudblogs.com/2011/06/16/westchester-legislator-accuses-ball-of-political-gamesmanship/ , I'm not nearly as confident as you are that Republicans and their patrons are not using this bill about marriage to create new rights of religious agencies to discriminate in adoption and foster care services. While Ball speaks vaguely about the ability of these organizations to "provide charitable and health services", Liz Benjamin reported today that, when asked for specifics about the particular concerns he has about the marriage equality bill's impact on religious freedom, "Skelos brought up the issue of adoption services offered by Catholic churches." http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/71339/skelos-gop-worried-about-%e2%80%98unintended-consequences%e2%80%99-of-gay-marriage-bill/ I don't think this is just about assuring that churches don't have to rent out their halls to gay and lesbian couples. I think that Ball & Co. and their patrons are trying to create new rights of religious organizations to discriminate in adoption and other services in ways which they presently cannot do under the law.

    Posted by: Patric | Jun 17, 2011 5:34:59 PM


  12. @Patric: It's too bad Skelos wasn't asked to be more specific about what he meant there, but I wouldn't necessarily assume it means they'll be bringing adoption into the fold. I don't think Ball's language even mentions adoption, although it could be vague enough to be construed that way. If they are trying to get the laws around adoption services changed, then they are not acting in good faith.

    Posted by: Bruno | Jun 17, 2011 7:04:31 PM


  13. I came across a quote from Ball...

    "Nobody wants to be in a position where we're shutting down Catholic adoption agencies," said Ball. "And the governor has got to, in my opinion, pay real attention to that."

    What's interesting about this is he doesn't seem to know that there have already been closed agencies.

    Posted by: Bruno | Jun 17, 2011 7:23:15 PM


  14. I don't know what's got everybody riled up. This is exactly what you expect from republicans: delay and stall what the other side wants. Doing the right thing, when was that ever the business of republicans? Stop living on pipe dreams people. This sad state of affairs is here because you stay home on election day or vote republican. Complain all you want but you only have one day every other year to actually do anything about this.

    Posted by: Mark | Jun 17, 2011 9:52:02 PM


  15. Any politician that insists that a government contractor needs exemptions in the law is hopelessly corrupt. Vote the bums out!

    Posted by: bob | Jun 18, 2011 9:11:37 AM


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