NEW YORK - Christians in New York who don't want to provide services to same-sex couples will not be protected under the new gay marriage law, legal experts say.
The gay marriage bill, which was passed by the Legislature in June, offers only limited religious protections. Only religious organizations or corporations would be exempt from granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but individuals with religious objections to gay marriage would not be protected under the legislation.
Under the religious exemptions of the gay marriage bill, churches or religious organizations can refuse to rent their space to for gay weddings and ministers employed by faith-based organizations can refuse to perform gay marriages.
However, clerks who refuse to sign gay marriage licenses based on their religious beliefs will not be protected.
Recently, Barbara MacEwen, a town clerk from upstate New York, went public with her opposition to gay marriage. The 75-year-old said she would not sign any marriage licenses for same-sex couples when such licenses become available later this month.
But her refusal would result in legal punishment, said Brian Raum, senior council for the Alliance Defense Fund.
MacEwen "cannot bow out of signing same-sex marriages or she will risk losing her job and possibly be sued," Raum told The Christian Post.
Furthermore, Christian public officials, caterers, photographers and even psychiatrists are not protected under the religious amendments. If they refuse to service gay married couples, they could face civil lawsuits, civil penalties of up to thousands of dollars, or reprisals within their field.
"Senators failed to keep their campaign promises about religious freedoms," said Raum. "If a Christian doctor does not want to treat a gay couple he can have civil penalties heaped upon him or herself. If the doctor violates the law he can be up for ethics charges, sued by the gay individual or couple and fined possibly for thousands of dollars."
Public officials could be fired for not honoring the gay marriage law, he added.
Raum said it was a "possibility" that gay marriage bill could be modified to include more religious freedoms but admitted that would "take some time."
On Sunday July 24, the first day gay marriage ceremonies can take place in New York since the law was signed, clerk's offices will be open in all five boroughs. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a recent statement that the clerk’s offices are always closed on the weekend, but for this special occasion they will be open.
The New York City clerk's offices will be open two hours later than usual for the first five weekdays after the same-sex marriage bill goes into effect.
State law generally requires couples to wait 24 hours after receiving a marriage license before they can wed. But on Sunday, July 24, state judges will volunteer to perform ceremonies and review requests for waivers of the 24-hour waiting period, according to the mayor's office.
New York is now one of six states that allow gay marriage. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo last month signed the state's Marriage Equality Act into law. Gay couples from out of state will also be allowed to apply for marriage licenses in New York.