Sexuality and Gender

RFRA Is Not Jim Crow

Author Melinda Penner Published on 04/03/2015

In the controversy over the Indiana law, comparisons are again being made between same-sex marriage and interracial marriage: We’ve all realized that banning interracial marriage was bigotry and wrong; we should admit the same about same-sex marriage. One commentator drew the comparison on another line claiming that bigotry of interracial marriage was religiously motivated.

The comparison is not an accurate one in any way.

Frank Beckwith has made the observation that the ban on interracial marriage was not one that was founded on nature and natural function. Couples have been marrying interracially for millennia. It was a relatively recent move to ban it by law that was motivated out of hatred and racism. Race has nothing to do with the natural function of marriage and procreation. That’s why it’s been a rare thing historically to ban it.

This is fundamentally different than same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage has never been practiced before, in any culture, at any time in history. There’s never been a ban because it never happened. That’s the opposite of interracial marriage.

While many of the bigots in the past used the Bible to justify their actions, this was always a minority of people who claimed to be Christians. And the movement for treating all people equally has been deeply grounded in the Bible. As has happened many times over the years, religion was misused to justify their sin, but the Bible did not motivate the sin.

Critics claim that the Indiana law protecting religious conscience will be used to discriminate against gay people. You know what reason we have to be skeptical of that claim? The bakers and photographers who’ve objected to being compelled to participate in same-sex weddings have no history of refusing service to gay individuals. Their conscientious objection is to the activity of a wedding for gay people, not against gay individuals. There’s a significant difference between baking a cake for a gay person’s birthday and baking a cake for a wedding celebration of a same-sex couple. No one has claimed a conscience objection to the former, only the later.

There’s another real difference between the Indiana law and Jim Crow laws. The Indiana law gives religious people a standing if sued to defend themselves against illegitimate discrimination. The law doesn’t compel them to do or not do anything. Jim Crow laws compelled businesses to deny service to individuals, even if they objected to the discriminatory laws. Business owners had no freedom to provide service, even when their religiously-informed consciences objected.

The comparison between the religious objections to same-sex marriage and interracial marriage is a false one. They should be corrected at every opportunity. Religious liberty protection should be extended in the cases of participating in the celebration of same-sex marriage because it’s in no way like Jim Crow.