NY Senator Demands Religious Exemptions in Marriage Equality Bill

The New York Daily News reports that New York GOP Senator Greg Ball told Governor Andrew Cuomo last week that unless religious institutions are exempted from holding and participating in same-sex marriages, a bill to legalize them isn't likely to pass.

The NYDN: GregBall

Most contentious is Ball's argument that individuals and businesses – not just religious organizations – who oppose gay marriage should also be exempted from the state's discrimination laws.

"If you're going to pass a marriage bill, real religious exemptions and carveouts to protect the Catholic Church and other religious groups need to be included," Ball told the Daily News.

"Short of that, I don't think you'll see a marriage bill pass."

Gay rights groups say the current laws already cover religious exemptions:

"The religious exemption laws that currently exist will not be changed at all by allowing loving same-sex couples to marry here in New York," said Ross Levi of the Empire State Pride Agenda.

Ball is also pitching alternatives, Gannett reports:

Sen. Greg Ball, R-Patterson, Putnam County, said he's undecided on the same-sex marriage bill but would support civil unions, which would afford gay couples equal rights but not the ability to marry. Gay-rights advocates want marriage equality.

Ball said after passing civil unions, New York could pass a law allowing for issues to be on the ballot — called initiative and referendum — and then let voters decide whether to make gay marriage legal.

"I believe we could immediately pass the most comprehensive civil-union bill in the country and at the same time find a way to constitutionally package an initiative and referendum on gay marriage and put it out to the people," Ball explained.

Seven to eight Senators are officially undecided on the measure, though advocates say there are more opportunities than that.

Now is the most important time for folks to contact New York Senators, particularly those who represent areas of the Hudson Valley and on Long Island, where Towleroad hears pressure from constituents could make a big difference.

Contact your NY Senator using my Friend-setter page at Friendfactor. Your Senator needs to hear from you.


  1. says

    Sen. Ball is a liar. Religious protections are part of all civil marriage legislation, including in NY. Churches will always be able to choose which marriages they sanction. Including gay couples in civil marriage has no more effect on churches than carving out 2nd class citizenship via CUs. His true colors show when talks about putting “gay marriage” on the ballot–how is subjecting select citizens’ marriages to a popular vote related to religious liberty? It isn’t. Religion isn’t his actual concern. His actual concern is preventing gay NYers from having full equality in NY.

  2. Taylor says

    I just called my Senator (who is already a SSM supporter) and urged him to lobby any of his fellow Senators who may be sitting on the fence to vote in favor of SSM, if a Bill is introduced. If you live in NY…use the link that Andy has posted. It takes all of 15 secs.

  3. says

    “I believe we could immediately pass the most comprehensive civil-union bill in the country and…”

    WRONG. That’s already been done time and time again. Vermont did it first. At the state level there was NO difference between marriage and CUs. Other states have done the same. It’s not new. It’s not “the most…” anything. It’s still not marriage, and courts have found it discriminatory.

    Is anybody else getting tired of the ridiculous privilege of religion in our society?

  4. says

    Gee, have religious institutions EVER been required to perform marriages for ANYONE? Not as far as I can tell! Atheist couples are allowed to marry, Muslim couples are allowed to marry … but mosques have never been forced to host weddings for Atheist couples, and Catholic churches have never been forced to host weddings for Muslim couples.

    The whole notion that religious institutions might be “forced” to conduct Gay weddings is nothing but fear-mongering.

    Anyway, the only thing that churches can offer (or deny) to any couple is a ceremony. None of the legal benefits, protections, and responsibilities of marriage come from the church, they come from the government. And the fact remains that that there is simply no Constitutional justification for denying law-abiding, taxpaying Gay couples the same legal benefits that Straight couples have always taken for granted.

  5. Houndentenor says

    So put the redundant exemption language in the bill and get it passed. If someone’s only demand is something they already have that’s a no-brainer.

  6. btinc says

    That perky little sumbitch doesn’t want “religious exceptions,” he wants to neuter the bill so that groups and businesses can ignore the legal status of same-sex married couples while giving benefits to opposite-sex married couples.

  7. TampaZeke says

    I will support that “compromise” the day that it applies across the board to ALL marriages and to everyone regardless of their religion. The day that anyone can refuse to recognize ANYONE’S marriage for ANY reason this application to gay marriages will be fair and just. Don’t like mixed race couples? No problem, don’t give them the benefits you offer to married couples. Don’t like Catholics/Baptists/Mormons? Same thing. Don’t like Mexicans, Moroccans or Mississippians? Again, no problem, don’t recognize them.

    Let’s see how far such a bill as that gets with Ball, the Senate and the people of New York.

    I think it’s important that these politicians be asked publicly, on the record, if they believe that gay people should be singled out with “carve outs” for their discrimination and why.

  8. Jon John says

    I wonder how Sen. Ball would like it if a church or a business would tell him, NO, if they didn’t like who he married. I know that one day we are all going to look back at this and just laugh and shake our heads.

  9. dms says

    I think it makes sense to create wording that exempts religious institutions. While it may be implied that they don’t have to sanction ssms, if adding the wording earns some votes, then why not? If churches want to remain bigoted and exclusionary and continue to become irrelevant in today’s society, so be it.

  10. Patric says

    “The New York Daily News reports that New York GOP Senator Greg Ball told Governor Andrew Cuomo last week that unless religious institutions are exempted from holding and participating in same-sex marriages, a bill to legalize them isn’t likely to pass.”

    That’s not a very precise description of what Ball is proposing. If that were all he were proposing, it would be quite non-controversial and, indeed, the best response would be that the current version of the bill and the First Amendment already assure that result.

    As the language you cite makes clear, Ball wants to exampt “individuals and businesses – not just religious organizations – who oppose gay marriage . . .from the state’s discrimination laws.” That’s where things become more controversial.

    What’s clear here is that Ball is setting himself up so that he can spin whatever vote he ultimately casts – assuming that the Republican leadership of the senate even allows a vote after having repeatedly promised to do so in the past – in the light most favorable to himself. He is young and has been mentioned as a rising star within the state Republican party who might seek statewide office one day. On the one hand, that would make a vote against marriage equality a liability in a state where independent voters support equality by large margins and where Dems enjoy a big registration advantage. That could be motivating him to try to find a way to support this bill. On the other hand, he could be setting himself up to vote against equality while allowing himself to spin his actions by saying that he supports equality and tried to get a bill that recognized both equality and religious freedom (ignoring the fact that he’s actually proposing a far broader exemption than is necessary to preserve religious freedom).

  11. Albert says

    This has nothing to do with freedom of religious groups to solemnize same-sex marriage, but, BTINC says, it’s about gutting the benefits that go along with marital status. We’re looking here, for example, at the Catholic Church as employer. This kind of exemption would be far-reaching, since a lot of religious groups run charities and other businesses where same-sex married individuals work. Don’t fall for it! We can’t have this included in a marriage equality bill.

  12. CPT_Doom says

    Someone should call the bigot’s bluff and do what Tampazeke proposes, but go one further. They should also introduce a civil unions bill for all marriages that fail to meet the “ideal” of a mother/father/kids. that means all previously divorced and/or widowed individuals would be limited to civil union, not marriage, for their failure to meet the ideal.

  13. Bruno says

    If he’s truly demanding that any individual or business can discriminate against supposedly legal marriages, then this bill is sunk for the year. Time to figure out who to target in next year’s election…I’d start with Addabbo, Huntley, & Kruger if he’s still there.

  14. Chris says

    I echo Albert and Bruno — these exemptions are more about benefits than about the solemnization of marriages, and if the holdouts insist on them, the legislation is probably dead for the year.

    (By the way, if anyone finds the “initiative and referendum” option tempting, I’d caution against opening up that can of worms. Living in California for eight years was enough to make a cynic out of this direct democrat…)

  15. David says

    In all other states with SSM, there have been exemptions for churches and individuals and groups that are directly controlled by a church. The exemption would extend to services related to the wedding. So for example, no church would have to conduct a gay wedding and, if the church provided catering or lodging, it would be free to turn down any gay wedding parties.

    This was the deal worked out in NH to get the governor’s signature. I think this kind of deal is perfectly acceptable, and probably doesn’t do much more than the constitution would require anyway.

    In contrast, Ball is talking about an exemption for “religious organizations” that provide services that have nothing to do with a wedding, such as Catholic hospitals and Catholic adoption services. The exemption would apply even if these groups were acting under contract with the state and are funded with taxpayer money.

    I think that we should be prepared to give Ball as broad an exemption as he wants with respect to weddings. Even if it were broader than any other exemption and covered individuals and for-profit businesses that were not controlled by a church – such as a catering business owned by a religious family – it would still be worth it to give that up in exchange for a win on marriage in New York. There really aren’t many businesses that deal directly with weddings and any exemption in that area would have a trivial impact.

    But as to exemptions for organizations that provide services unrelated to weddings, I don’t think we can give in. That would set a precedent for all future marriage laws.

  16. PLAINTOM says

    The vote must be really close and trending away from the haters. Perhaps they have an inside count which shows the law passing because this guy is trying to change the debate. Of course there should be and already is an exemption which would not require any church to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.

  17. FrankJ says

    Well it looks like its going to be
    more culture war to the very end. It
    seems the GOP just can’t let go of
    their favorite vote getter:homophobia.
    To the GOP homophobia is not about fear
    it is about power. And as far as religion
    is concerned, it has long been my observation that religion is the wedge
    that has been placed between people and
    their own rightful personal relationship with God. So much static. Pitiful.

  18. Rin says

    First off, he says “Catholic” so that he has someone to throw under the bus with gay voters. The Pew Institute and other have already shown Catholics to be ahead of the curve of other religions and in many cases even agnostics when it comes to voting–not church policy, but actual Catholics.

    Second, if this were a religious nation we would not have shows like the Bachelor or Teen Mom.

    These things are excuses for the prejudices people already have. There are Christians (more than the squeaky wheels that protest) that support gay rights, so this is just BS.

    What this dude is talking about are businesses like florists and wedding halls that don’t want to house or support gay weddings. They are forced to in the state of Massachusetts and this is why uber conservatives want all these exemptions.

    Ya know, so they can lose money by not catering to gays and lesbians…

  19. Mark says

    This is dumb. Churches don’t need the law’s permission to refuse to perform services. A church is a private institution and like any other private institution, it can do whatever it wants on its own property. Civil marriage has nothing to do with churches and why on earth anyone who is gay would want the church anywhere near them on their wedding day is beyond me.

    The same goes for private businesses. They can kick you out of their property and they don’t need a reason for it at all, much less one grounded in law. Have you seen the signs behind the service counters at Burger King restaurants in inner city blocks? They read “We reserve the right to refuse service to ANYONE”.

  20. says

    I think individuals should be allowed to ignore any law they please, namely the one that says politicians are elitist that have the right to be assholes and we have to accept it! Perhaps we can also ignore all those pesky laws that say we can’t kill people and take out every [corrupted] politician!

    Laws are not a buffet you get to pick and choose from. And any politician that says otherwise needs to be thrown in jail for corruption!

  21. Attmay says

    It never ceases to amaze me how laws don’t apply to those who passed them.

    It’s time to challenge the concept of “freedom of religion.” It’s obvious that some religions need to be kept in check by the State. Frankly, I feel more comfortable with corporations having free speech rights than churches or, to be even more frank, people who hold public office. Some corporations are ahead of the game in protecting our rights.

    If that makes me a fascist, then Homo Homo Über Alles.

  22. mcNnyc says

    Civil Unions in NY State WILL NOT PASS.
    Civil Union Legislation is a toothless joke.
    At best it is “place-holder” legislation but unworthy of a NY State citizen.

    What about the religious organizations who WANT to perform same sex marriage in their church…why are we denying them their civil and religious right to do so?

  23. AnonyGrl says

    NO! Putting exemptions that undercut anti-discrimination laws already in place into this bill would be a VERY bad move.

    If we say that anyone can discriminate on the basis of sexuality in ANY area, simply because of religious beliefs, we set ALL civil rights back by decades!

    Churches already can discriminate. That is in the law. But they can only do so in areas of religious doctrine. They can refuse sacraments, such as marriage, baptism, ordination, and so on, to anyone they like. But if Ball has his way, anyone who wants to claim “I am a Catholic, so I refuse to let those gays come into my restaurant” will have grounds to argue that. Adoption agencies will be allowed to disallow same sex couples and still take state money. Churches that offer their secular employees family health insurance will be allowed to turn down benefits for families made up of two fathers or two mothers. CIVIL RIGHTS are not subject to discrimination, and should not be, but Ball’s plan will open the door for it.

  24. Tigger says

    Are you people effin crazy?? Get 8 R’s in a room and include every single damned religious exemption that they want, then make up a few more for good measure.

    The religious exemptions will have to pass constitutional muster at some point and by then 20,000 couples in NY will be happily married. And those businesses owned by religious folks who decide not to take your money, that’s their dumb assed perogative. They have the same right now.

    And if you work at that Catholic hospital and they don’t have to include your spouse in the healthcare plan…the NY Court of Appeals will sort that out I’m sure.

    There are things you compromise on and things you don’t. I would let a nun open hand slap me in the face, unblocked, twice a month for a year to get marriage in MY.

  25. Drewd says

    The only reason the church is so opposed to gay marriage is because it’s a religious ceremony and they feel that their religious ways are begin tampered with. I, being a gay man, do not desire marriage, I just want the same rights and benefits as other couples. Why doesn’t the government just honor civil unions and if a couple WANTS to have a wedding then they can take that up with whichever church?

    I for one do not want to battle religion, that’s a slippery slope that I’m not comfortable with. I just think it would be easier for EVERYONE to get a civil union to be deemed a couple.

  26. Jon John says

    Well, Tigger and Drewd, let me know what you think about my proposal…I’ll give you my email address, then from there we can talk phone number. I like guys that think the way you do…if you have another, then that’s okay, I’ll just keep looking. Thanks.

  27. Andrew says

    Why, WHY is it that people who are anti-gay and against marriage equality always look so effing constipated?!?

    Eat right, exercise, laugh, enjoy your senses, and stop judging. Life isn’t that serious!

  28. Randy says

    It would be better to put marriage on the ballot, than to pass a bill enshrining special exemptions for people hiding their bigotry behind religion.

    But the vote must happen even if it fails, so these legislators can be held to account.

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