I learned early in my newspaper career that readers simply love irony.
So if you haven’t had your recommended dosage today, take a few spoonfuls of this:
In what was billed as a moment of enlightenment, Mississippi legislators this spring redid Senate Bill 2681 with the goal of making it less menacing. But it turns out the debate over the righteousness of Mississippi’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a whole lot less black and white than we may have thought.
You’ll recall the original version of SB2681 made national headlines for its similarities with an Arizona bill vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer that would have given businesses owners license to refuse service to customers on religious grounds. More specifically, the Arizona bill and the Mississippi version were widely seen as allowing business owners to legally reject same-sex couples as customers.
The amended version, touted by Mississippi’s business leaders as more tolerant and acceptable, was interpreted by its backers to apply only to actions by governments that are deemed to intrude on religious freedoms. Lawyers over at the Mississippi chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union have a much different read and insist the final bill is still a license for businesses to practice the kind of hatefulness so widely accepted during Mississippi’s Jim Crow era before federal civil rights laws.
At any rate, let us, for the moment, accept the view of supporters of SB2681 that the law recently signed by Gov. Phil Bryant is meant only to keep the government from hacking away at our religious liberties.
And let us also accept that the Unitarian Universalist Church is indeed a religious organization, even though the absence of a strict creed for congregants to follow is enough to give many preachers fits.
What if the Unitarians engage in sanctioning a practice that results in something outlawed by the Mississippi constitution such as gay marriage? Would not a move by Mississippi to prohibit that act violate SB2684 on the grounds of government interference with religious freedom?
The courts will have to decide. But a ruling against the Unitarians will only lend huge credence to what critics of the so-called religious freedom law said all along – the measure represents only a way to give legal authority to some harsh interpretations of the Bible held by fundamentalist groups in Mississippi.
Our freedom is not your freedom, in other words.
Here is a scenario put forth recently on the Mississippi lefty blog Cottonmouth:
Will SB 2681 become the basis for legalizing gay marriage in Mississippi?
While everyone has been focused on how SB 2681 will allow its proponents to discriminate against gays, another angle has been discussed by a few folks.
The Unitarian Universalist Church has, since 1996, sanctioned same-sex marriages. There are UU churches in Ellisville (hello, Chris McDaniel!), Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Jackson, Oxford, and Tupelo. What happens when they perform a same-sex wedding ceremony after the enactment of SB 2681, and that couple attempts to have their marriage recognized by the state or a local government?
And what happens when the ensuing court battle inevitably makes its way to the U.S. Supreme Court? That’s the same court that recently struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, for what it’s worth.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if all of the linguistic machinations employed by proponents of SB 2681 to make certain a court couldn’t strike down SB 2681 as discriminatory wound up providing the very basis for legalizing gay marriage in Mississippi?
Time will tell….
A Cottonmouth reader had a worthwhile comment:
“Ooohhhh. If the state keeps me from practicing my sincerely held religious belief that I should be able to get married without the undue burden of a constitutional ban, we should ALL rush out this weekend, get married at a UU church and then flood the Jackson, Harrison, and whatever county court is appropriate with our marriage certificates.
“Let’s see what happens then.”
Thanks, Cottonmouth reader. That’s the kind of mischief that may just bring some progressive change to The Magnolia State.
Meanwhile, handicappers have put Mississippi as the longest shot among the states to ever allow same-sex marriages.
Gov. Bryant may have just lessened those odds considerably. He at the least has set the stage for exposing the true meaning and intentions of SB2681.