The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

August 26, 2013

Divide over religious exemptions on gay marriage

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — The battle over gay marriage is heating up in the states, energizing religious groups that oppose same-sex relationships — but also dividing them.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court gave married gays and heterosexuals equal status under federal law, but did not declare a nationwide right for gays to marry, setting the stage for state-by-state decisions. So faith leaders are forming new coalitions and preparing for the legislative and courtroom battles ahead.

Yet, traditional religious leaders, their supporters and the First Amendment attorneys advising them are divided over strategy and goals, raising questions about how much they can influence the outcome:

— Several religious liberty experts say conservative faith groups should take a pragmatic approach given the advances in gay rights. Offer to stop fighting same-sex marriage laws in exchange for broad religious exemptions, these attorneys say. "If they need to get those religious accommodations, they're going to have to move now," said Robin Fretwell Wilson, a family law specialist at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. Critics reject the idea as a premature surrender.

— Religious leaders lobbying for exemptions can't agree how broad they should be. A major difference is over whether for-profit companies should qualify for a faith-based exception.

— Some religious liberty advocates and faith leaders are telling houses of worship they could be forced to host gay weddings, with their clergy required to officiate. The Louisiana Baptist Convention is advising congregations to rewrite their bylaws to state they only allow heterosexual marriage ceremonies, and the Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberty group that opposes same-sex marriage, is advising the same. But legal experts across a spectrum of views on gay rights say it can't happen given strong First Amendment protections for what happens inside the sanctuary.

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