The problem with sincerely held beliefs
*** UPDATE (6/11/15): SB 2 passed the override vote in the NC House. It is now legal for state officials to deny marriage licenses based on "sincerely held religious beliefs" in NC. ***
I believe a lot of things. In fact, a lot of these beliefs are sincerely held. For example, I believe that Bigfoot lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I believe that my son will grow-up to be President of the United States. And I believe that the leadership of the North Carolina General Assembly are full of it. (That one is a very sincerely held belief. I even have some data to back that one up.)
When the NC General Assembly introduced Senate Bill 2, the intention was to allow magistrates to opt-out of officiating same-sex marriages in our state if doing so would run counter to the individual’s “sincerely held religious belief”. Legislators were well aware of the legal, moral, and political ramifications of these type of proposals. After all, nineteen states have so-called religious freedom laws. Indiana passed a similar law earlier this year, but the NC-version of the law goes further than any other law on the books anywhere.
As Mark Stern wrote in Slate yesterday:
North Carolina’s bill is actually far more radical than Indiana’s, a dramatic expansion of civil servants’ right to inflict discrimination on others with the full endorsement of the government. The Indiana law allowed “compelling governmental interests” to trump religious exercise—but the North Carolina bill has no such upper limit. In effect, the bill declares that protecting civil servants’ right to discriminate on the job is more important than anything else. All a magistrate need do under the bill is declare that she holds a religious objection to issuing a marriage license to a certain couple, and she can legally turn them away.
But what makes this so much worse is the legal language conservative legislators chose in crafting the bill. In an obvious effort to avoid the constitutional challenges that the law would face if signed into law, the bill allows magistrates to turn away any couple for any reason, just as long as it is offensive to a “sincerely held religious belief.” It’s a standard that is incredibly easy to satisfy since it is not further defined in the bill.
There was a time when a common sincerely held religious belief that slavery was blessed by God. There was a time when a common sincerely held religious belief that interracial marriage was an abomination. And there are still many who see same-sex marriage as an equally objectionable sin. My point, of course, is that we have a long, dark history of bigotry and discrimination that came from sincerely held religious beliefs. That’s why we created a secular democracy, not a theocracy.
As Rachel Maddow said last night, “They were aiming for gay people, and they got everyone.” And get us all they did. No matter how you feel about same-sex marriage, this bill truly is a license for sworn state officers to discriminate against whomever they like, for whatever reason they like – as long as it’s sincerely held, of course. *wink*
Which brings me back to my sincerely held beliefs. Since I’m not a religious person, I wonder which of my beliefs would qualify under this statute. All of them? None of them? And how would anyone but me know the difference?
This is the trouble with sincerely held religious beliefs – they are, by definition, personal and unverifiable. What a convenient concoction of arbitrary and capricious, mixed with a heaping dose of discrimination and hetero-normative privilege.
In the famous anti-miscegenation case of Loving v. VA, an example of sincerely held religious beliefs finally put right, US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote:
"Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination."
I happen to believe that denying a secular marriage license to anyone for religious reason is a perfect example of invidious discrimination. I believe it so sincerely, in fact, that I consider it a sincerely held religious belief. Care to prove me wrong? Because Bigfoot is still out wandering Buncombe county, and he agrees with me. Believe it.
Or not. I do. Sincerely. *wink*