Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Gay Marriage and Non-Profit Status.

For some odd reason, I've found myself thinking a lot about non-profit organizations recently. I suppose that it's been indirectly caused by the California Supreme Court Case regarding same-sex marriage. If you're not familiar with the ruling, that government body decided that a ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. Obviously this has been the source of a lot of celebration in some quarters. The decision made California only the second state in the union to provide this benefit to a much maligned subgroup of the population. But for as much happiness as this caused, it's arguably been responsible for nearly equal provocation. The Christian Right was mortified by this action, and its leaders have intensified their complaints about "activist judges".

I've written on this particular subject at some length, and have made no secret that I unreservedly support the rights of homosexuals to commemorate their unions in any way offered to heterosexuals. Those who insist that the parameters of marriage are solely defined by the Christian bible are either naive or willfully obtuse. Regardless of fundamentalist claims to the contrary, Christians have not proved themselves more successful at marriage than any other segment of the population. The "institution" is circumscribed by law, and thus the status of those united in such a ceremony is by definition legalistic. Any spiritual component to such a union is the private business of the individuals involved.

So what does this have to do with non-profit organizations? It's a fact that religious bodies have been vested by the state with the power of performing marriage ceremonies. It's also well-known that churches are granted non-profit status. In my view, as long as these circumstances remain, people should not be making distinctions that are (at their very heart) unconstitutional. Ultimately the status of marriage is recognized by the federal and state governments. The conditions of matrimony include tax breaks, as well as other civilly-defined privileges. These benefits should not be withheld on the basis of religious discrimination. If they are, the offending organization should be stripped of their non-profit classification.

I want to be clear that I am specifically talking only about non-profits. Private businesses also discriminate based on sexual orientation. In many cases they are sued by those they refuse to serve. This past week I heard about a lesbian couple who contacted wedding photographers, and was told that the business did not document same-sex marriages. The dissatisfied parties ended up in civil court, arguing the merits of their respective positions. I'd like to see such lawsuits eliminated as well. Private contractors should have a right to pick-and-choose their clients based upon self-selecting criteria. Whether or not their biases are absurd is not the point. If they aren't getting breaks from the government they should be free to pursue their enterprise in any manner that they see fit.

Don't get me wrong... I realize that this proposal will be unpopular among progressives. There is indeed something inherently troublesome about limiting your commerce to those that agree with you and your values. But I think that this option should be protected by the Constitution. Business owners should be allowed to reserve the right to set the terms of their services. Government shouldn't be in the practice of dictating the activities of citizens who are merely exercising their right to choose their own associates. However, such entities should be refused any public subsidies, including tax exemption. Such rewards should be democratically administered and in agreement with the spirit of the Constitution.

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