Gay marriage opponents pick new battleground of religious freedom

Tue Oct 7, 2014 10:47pm EDT
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By Fiona Ortiz

CHICAGO (Reuters) - With the U.S. gay marriage battle looking increasingly like a lost cause for conservative opponents, a last battleground may be their quest to allow people to refuse services to gay men and women on religious grounds.

Some conservative groups have seized on what they consider religious freedom cases, ranging from a Washington state florist to bakers in Colorado and Oregon who are fighting civil rights lawsuits after refusing to provide goods and services to gay couples.

"You'll have more instances where religious liberty will potentially come into conflict with this new redefined way of understanding marriage," said Jim Campbell of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal group established to defend religious freedom.

Campbell represented New Mexico's Elane Photography, a small company that was sued after the owner declined to provide services for a same-sex commitment ceremony.

Such cases, experts said, will likely become more common after action by the Supreme Court and federal appeals courts this week extended gay marriage to more than half the states.

Several states have considered new broadly worded laws that among other things would permit people to deny services to gay people on religious grounds.

In Arizona, the Republican-led legislature passed such a measure but Republican Governor Jan Brewer vetoed it in February. A similar bill was considered but not passed by the Kansas legislature.