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Don Roach: When Rights Collide – Homosexuality and Religion

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Our use of the term “anti-gay” has become a little excessive. I was reading about a law in Arizona that would allow any person or corporation the ability to claim the practice of religious exercise as a defense to violating certain sections of Arizona law.

Nowhere in the text of the law is the word “gay”, “black”, “white”, or other buzzwords used to attach an –ist claim to such language. Nevertheless, most media outlets are calling the bill an “anti-gay” piece of legislation so let me add some context around the bill.

First of all, most state have equal protection statutes the contents of which employers are required to post somewhere employees to see. These statutes usually talk about not discriminating based on race, religion, creed, national origin, and sexual orientation. For the purpose of today’s analysis, let’s only view these laws with respect to religion and sexual orientation.

In practice, this means states cannot make laws nor support actions by any entity (unless exempted) that discriminated based upon religion or sexual orientation. For example, if I apply for a job at Citizens Bank, Citizens cannot use my religion or lack thereof as a criterion in its hiring practice. Were I a homosexual man, the same would hold true. If, during the process I felt discriminated against on those grounds, I could seek legal redress against Citizens.

The law in Arizona appears to be addressing businesses that object to certain aspects of homosexuality – namely gay marriage – and refusing to serve them based upon their religious convictions. Recently, there was a story of a wedding photographer who refused to take photos for a gay couple on religious grounds and was sued – and lost . In response to the ruling against his client, the attorney for the photographer said:

The idea that free people can be ‘compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives’ as the ‘price of citizenship’ is a chilling and unprecedented attack on freedom.

Americans seem to agree as a Rasmussen poll found that 85 percent of Americans believe that “if a Christian wedding photographer who has deeply held religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage is asked to work a same-sex wedding ceremony, […] he has the right to say no.”

Alternative, the lawyer for the couple who sued the photographer successfully argued in court that:

No court has ever held that the First Amendment gives businesses a license to sell goods and services to the general public but then reject customers based on race or religion or sexual orientation, in violation of state law.

While America appears to overwhelmingly agree with this photographer, the courts did not.

What happens when rights collide?

The situation with the photographer and the Arizona law are about rights colliding. Free religious exercise is one of the primary reasons people from Europe came to America as many couldn’t freely practice their religion. Still, if my religion called for me to murder someone every 28 days, religious exercise wouldn’t be a sufficient defense. In recent years, many in the faith community have discussed the implications of gay marriage and churches refusing to marry same-sex. I haven’t heard any local or national pols that churches do not have a right to marry whomever they want to marry. It’s not dissimilar to Catholic churches refusing to marry people who are not Catholic.

Thus the question is where do we draw the line between exercising our First Amendment right to practice our own religion against other rights?

In situations with gay marriage, it is a dicey legal situation. Most Americans favor allowing people to practice their religion and even a majority of Americans are fine with gay marriage. One argument in support of gay marriage has been how it doesn’t affect people who are heterosexual. That’s not the main argument, but it is certainly an argument in debate. Well, in these two examples there will be impact and if you are a businessperson with considerable convictions about an issue, where are your protections?

Where are your rights? Do you as a business person just not sell anything?

I feel we need to strike a balance, but I’m not quite sure how. I wish I could end with a solution, but unfortunately I don’t have one. Do you?

Don can be reached at [email protected] . Please follow don on Twitter at @donroach34.


Related Slideshow: Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index Scorecard - Worcester, MA

HRC's Municipal Equality Index (MEI) demonstrates the ways that many cities can—and do— support the LGBT people who live and work there, even where states and the federal government have failed to do so. GoLocal pulled the data from the 2013 report to show where Worcester excels and where it is lacking in supporting equality in the municipaility.

This year's report rates a total of 291 cities from every state in the nation, representing a total population total of 77,851,822.  To see how Worcester compares to other cities, download the full 2013 MEI report here.

Prev Next

Worcester Non-Discrimination Laws

This category evaluates whether discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by the city, county, or state in areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Worcester is subject to Massachusetts state laws with regard to employment, housing, and public accomodations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity, excepting only public accomodations laws with regard to gender identity, so they fall closely within line of HRC's best practices. 

Non-Discrimination Laws  
points for sexual orientation 3 out of 3
points for gender identity 3 out of 3
points for sexual orientation 3 out of 3
points for gender identity 3 out of 3
Public Accommodations  
points for sexual orientation 3 out of 3
points for gender identity 0 out of 3
Total Score 15 out of 18
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Worcester Relationship Recognition

Because this is an evaluation of municipalities, not states, and marriage is a state-level policy, this section is weighted so that an equal number of points are awarded for marriage (or other state relationship recognition) and municipal domestic partner registries.

Since Massachusetts became the sixth jurisdiction in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004, Worcester residents are granted ample recognition of their relationships without regard to same or opposite sex. 

Relationship Recognition 2013
Marriage Equality, Civil Unions, Domestic Partnerships 12 out of 12
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Worcester Municipality as Employer

By offering equivalent benefits and protections to LGBT employees, and by awarding contracts to fair-minded businesses, municipalities commit themselves to treating LGBT employees equally.

By the HRC's account, Worcester falls short as an employer, lacking ample forthright laws forbidding discrimination in city employment, ensuring equivalent family leave, and affirmatively forbidding discrimination in awarding city contracts and benefits to contractors.

Municipality as Employer 2013
Non-Discrimination in City Employment  
points for sexual orientation 0 out of 5
points for gender identity 0 out of 5
Domestic Partner Health Benefits
4 out of 4
Legal Dependent Benefits
2 out of 2
Equivalent Family Leave
0 out of 2
City Contractor
Non-Discrimination Ordinance
points for sexual orientation 0 out of 2
points for gender identity 0 out of 2
City Contractor
Equal Benefits Ordinance
0 out of 4
Total Score 6 out of 26
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Worcester Municipal Services

This section assesses the efforts of the city to ensure LGBT constituents are included in city services and programs.

A lack of a direct liason to the LGBT community in the mayor's office as well as no formally enumerated anti-bullying policies in schools at the municipal level hurt Worcester in this category. Worcester does have a Human Rights Office tasked with, among other things, "advocat[ing] for the human and civil rights of ALL residents of the City."

Municipal Services 2013
Human Rights Commission
7 out of 7
LGBT Liaison in
the Mayor’s Office
0 out of 5
Enumerated Anti-Bullying
School Policies
points for sexual orientation 0 out of 3
points for gender identity 0 out of 3
Total Score 7 out of 18
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Worcester Law Enforcement

Fair enforcement of the law includes responsible reporting of hate crimes and engaging with the LGBT community in a thoughtful and respectful way.

Worcester reports hate crime statistics, but their lack of a specific LGBT police liason or task force caused an 8 point deduction from their final score.

Municipal Services 2013
LGBT Police Liaison
or Task Force
0 out of 8
Reported 2011 Hate Crimes
Statistics to the FBI
10 out of 10
Total Score 10 out of 18
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Worcester Relationship with the LGBT Community

This category measures the city leadership’s commitment to fully include the LGBT community and to advocate for full equality.

Worcester was noted for it's leadership's public position on LGBT equality. However, it seems the Human Rights Commission sees room for improvement there. Furthermore, there have not been enough legislative efforts to pick up points in that department. Other direct efforts to engage with the LGBT community, however, landed Worcester 2 bonus points.

Municipal Services 2013
Leadership’s Public Position
on LGBT Equality
3 out of 5
Leadership’s Pro-Equality
Legislative or Policy Efforts
0 out of 3
Total Score 3 out of 8
BONUS: City engages with
the LGBT community
2 Bonus Points
Prev Next

Total Scores

81 out of 100

Categories 2013
I. Non-Discrimination Laws
15 out of 18
II. Relationship Recognition 12 out of 12
III. Municipality as Employer 6 out of 26
IV. Municipal Services 7 out of 18
V. Law Enforcement 10 out of 18
VI. Relationship with the LGBT Community 3 out of 8
Bonus 2 points
Total Score 55 out of 100



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