Religious Exceptions and the NJ “Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act”

The New Jersey Star-Ledger reports that the NJ State Assembly has enough votes to pass a proposed same-sex marriage bill. The Assembly will officially vote on the bill on February 16, three days after the Senate takes up the bill. Governor Chris Christie has repeatedly promised to veto any same-sex marriage legislation and has instead urged a referendum on the issue.

As I noted in a previous post, exceptions for religious groups have been a prerequisite to the passing of same-sex marriage legislation in other states, most notably New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. These exceptions have focused on two areas. First, they allow clergy to refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages and prevent both state action (i.e. penalizing or withholding benefits) and individual causes of action resulting from such refusal. Second, these exceptions allow a religious organization, like Catholic Charities, to “tak[e] … action … calculated … to promote the religious principles for which it is established or maintained.” Arguably, this language would allow a foster care service, run by Catholic Charities, to refuse to place children with same-sex couples, a scenario that has become a kind of litmus test on the strength of religious exceptions to same-sex marriage laws.

With this in mind, it is surprising that there has not been more press coverage about the NJ law’s religious exceptions. Continue reading

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