WASHINGTON — While Frank Bruni, a columnist for The New York Times, claims to be advocating a "live and let live" position on gay marriage versus religious freedom, he's actually advocating government coercion, Ryan Anderson, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, argued Tuesday.
The notion that gay marriage threatens religious liberty is "absurd" and "perpetuates confusion," Bruni wrote Sunday. Bruni mentioned wedding vendors — photographers, florists and wedding cake bakers — who are defending their right to decline service for same-sex weddings due to their religious beliefs. Those beliefs are a "fig leaf for intolerance," Bruni claimed.
Some states have sought to pass, or strengthen, state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Acts to make sure that courts continue to apply an appropriate balancing test in disputes between religious belief and gay marriage such as these. RFRA tells judges that the state can only infringe upon a person's right to behave according to their religious beliefs if there's a compelling government interest for doing so and the least restrictive means are used.
Tuesday, the editorial board of The New York Times described a Georgia RFRA bill as "legal cover for anti-gay discrimination."
Even though the federal RFRA was passed in the 1990s with only three dissenting votes in Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton, Bruni labeled its advocates "religious extremists" and compared them to racists.
In the last sentence of his op-ed, Bruni argued that his position is a "live and let live" position: "You must put up with me, just as I put up with you."
"That's not really what he's asking for," said Anderson, William E. Simon fellow in Religion and a Free Society, at Heritage Action for America's "Conservative Policy Summit." Bruni is saying, "I have a right to force you to violate your beliefs and bake me my wedding cake or take my wedding photos."
The "live and let live" position, Anderson continued, is that of the wedding vendors who do not want to participate in the celebration of a same-sex wedding due to their religious beliefs, because they are not asking the government to ban all wedding vendors from same-sex weddings. They are only asking for the freedom to choose for themselves whether to serve at a gay wedding.
"The principled solution to this is a 'live and let live' solution in which, if you're in favor of same-sex weddings, bake the same-sex wedding cake or take the flowers, but if you're against them, don't be coerced by the government," he said.
Anderson also criticized Bruni for saying religious freedom should only be protected in "pews, homes and hearts."
Bruni's characterization of religious freedom is part of a larger effort to redefine religious liberty to only include freedom of worship, Anderson claimed, "and thankfully the Supreme Court has rejected that argument repeatedly, most recently in the Hobby Lobby decision."
"The free exercise of religion is not limited to our homes, our pews and our hearts," he said. "Michelle Obama has probably said this best when she said, 'religious faith is also what we do Monday through Saturday.'"