There’s much restlessness in Annapolis now as the House of Delegates readies itself for a very close vote on legalizing same sex marriage.
Part of the opposition’s disquiet may come from the Orwellian language of the bill itself. Entitled “The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act,” it brazenly bids silence from anyone who doesn’t accept its strange doublespeak.
Sure, the bill’s actual “conscience clause” in Section 2 claims certain religious officials who object to same-sex marriage won’t be required to perform them.
But given the lack of popular consensus on a bill that claims to be about civil rights, it’s naïve to assume the original intent of that clause was to protect freedom of expression.
The primary purpose was to appease fence-sitting legislators and constituents who would otherwise be less comfortable supporting the bill.
Also telling is the fact that those who object to such clauses publicly eschew the term “conscience.”
Organizations on the Left, including the ACLU, routinely refer to them negatively, as “refusal clauses.”
Today’s conscience clauses seem intended mostly as stopgap measures to be nullified at a later date.
Just look at some recent indicators of growing hostility towards the survival of conscience clauses in both medical and marriage law. All seem to be adding up to a perfect storm:
On February 18, the Obama Administration gutted a federal regulation designed to protect health sector employees who refuse to participate in actions they find morally objectionable.
The original regulation was put in place in 2008, the year Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, sponsored the Freedom of Choice Act. Had FOCA passed, it would have invalidated conscience clauses across the board.
On February 23, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department would no longer defend Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
(It’s no surprise President Obama’s lip service for DOMA on the campaign trail “evolved” to view DOMA as unconstitutional.)
Should the Supreme Court declare DOMA unconstitutional, do not expect a conscience clause to accompany the decision.
Some states already recognize same sex marriage, so all 50 would likely be ordered to do same under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution.
On January 20 in Baltimore, abortion supporters were out in force when the Maryland Health Care Commission voted to award Holy Cross Hospital – rather than Adventist HealthCare -- certification to open a hospital in Upper Montgomery County.
According to the Gazette newspaper, the president of Maryland National Organization for Women “continued to disrupt until she was told she was out of order and would be evicted from the meeting.”
Adventist HealthCare officials will challenge this decision in court, no doubt with organized support from abortion supporters.
This could morph into a scenario challenging Maryland Code 20-214 which prohibits the state from recrimination against hospitals not performing abortions, such as Holy Cross.
On December 22 - coincidentally as the two hospitals above vied for certification -- the ACLU appealed to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services saying that refusal to provide abortion services by Catholic - and any other religiously affiliated hospitals – is a problem that continues nationwide.
The ACLU added that “the dioceses cannot be permitted to dictate who lives and who dies in Catholic-owned hospitals.”
The effort to abolish conscience clauses grounded in the First Amendment is now well upon us.
Stella Morabito is a Maryland freelance writer focused on issues of society, culture and education.