Monday, April 20, 2009

Bill No. 899

Preface: I hate lies. I don't think anything makes me angrier than someone deliberately being deceitful in order to get what they want.

Over the course of the past week or so, I've been feeling that I'm oblivious to SOMETHING BIG & BAD about to happen. It started with a phone call from "FRNKCMPN" on April 15. FRNKCMPN turned out to be a robot working for the National Organization for Marriage (well, not really; Googling suggests that FRNKCMPN is a telemarketing company located in Washington, D.C. which contracts out to organizations wanting to skirt around the Do Not Call lists by masking their agendas as "surveys").

The FRNKCMPN robot, on behalf of NOM, asked me a somewhat convoluted question about marriage between one man and one woman, and spoke the question so quickly that I barely had time to understand it. The question was phrased in such a way that I instinctively knew the correct answer was "yes" and instinctively felt inclined to give the "correct" answer. [I've spent 10 years writing test questions--I know very well that questions can be phrased in such a way.] I answered "no" even though I wasn't 100% sure that's what I meant. Anyone who is conducting a survey with questions designed to elicit only one response will never gain my support. Their dishonesty and deviousness instantly discredits them.

The phone call from FRNKCMPN left me feeling slightly unsettled. Why was someone conducting a survey with a political agenda that seemed almost guaranteed to get their desired results? I dismissed it, but the unsettled feeling re-emerged days later when I spotted this full-page advertisement in the Republican-American:



It's a very clever ad. My first response was to think it was for something pleasant. Then I read the second line and became instantly concerned that there was indeed something very bad about to happen. Which of my rights was about to be taken away and how?? According to the ad's text, a bill I've never heard of before will deny my religious rights, force the schools to teach gay marriage, force parents to teach gay marriage, punish church groups and shut down businesses. Boy is that scary! SOMETHING BIG & BAD is about to happen!

Fortunately, I've spent most of my life developing and exercising critical-thinking skills (something they don't seem to teach in the schools anymore). The lavish advertisement is clearly a fear-mongering variety, providing very few facts while preying on emotions. So I dismissed it. When it appeared again the next day, I dismissed it again, although briefly wondered if I should write something in opposition to it. On Monday, a new full-page ad started. I stopped to read it, because it looked like it might be challenging the "truthiness" of the previous ad:



This ad has the same agenda as the first, but appears to be present a sound argument: "Bill 899 provides no significant protection for First Amendment religious freedoms. It does not recognize the fundamental right--found in both the U.S. and Connecticut Constitutions--of churches, religious groups, and individuals to act in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs." Like the first ad, this one urges the reader to tell state senators and representatives to vote NO on Bill 899. Both ads offer the general 800 numbers for state senators and representatives and also direct the reader to a "convenient" form to fill out at ActNowCT.org.

This is when I decided to do research. My primary questions: is Bill 899 really unConstitutional? what exactly does Bill 899 say?

I had a few other questions as well: if they're worried about gay marriage being taught in the schools, does that mean straight marriage is currently being taught and, if so, what course is it taught in? Home Ec? Legal stuff everyone should know about before they are legally an adult? Is there even a course for Legal Stuff?

I don't like the idea of any type of marriage being "taught" in the schools. I can just imagine some chauvinist instructor telling all the little girls that they should focus on developing the right skills to be good wives, barefoot & pregnant in the kitchen, while telling the little boys that they have a duty and an obligation to work high-paying jobs no matter how unhappy they are, and that they should expect women to serve them in all things. I know I'm being overly dramatic and extreme, but there really are people who would teach this version of marriage. Come to think of it, how would a school decide on a curriculum for a course on marriage? No two marriages are the same, and it's up to the married couple to sort out how their marriage works.

I visited ActNowCT.org to see what they had to say. Mostly they seem to think that Bill 899 is going to force everyone in Connecticut to be gay, or that gays will become more powerful than straights. They provide easy access to a page that very easily lets you protest the bill via a pre-written message. You can "customize" the message by adding four optional reasons to be against the bill. You are not allowed to make any changes to the pre-written text (darn!).

While ActNowCT.org presents you with many reasons to be afraid of Bill 899, nowhere does it include any portion of the actual bill [CORRECTION (4/22): There is a link to the bill, in small print. Was it there before and I just didn't see it?]. They do provide a link to the Connecticut General Assembly website, but they do not provide a link to the bill itself, which is available online. As far as I'm concerned, the fact that ActNowCT is campaigning against the bill without quoting or referencing any actual text from the bill destroys any credibility they might have had. How can anyone be opposed to something when they don't know what it is? I hope that any state senator or representative receiving an email through the ActNowCT website will immediately dismiss it, since the odds are good that the sender has no idea what is actually in Bill 899.

Thanks to Google, I was able to find a copy of Bill 899 in less than 20 seconds. It is available online for anyone to review at http://www.cga.ct.gov/2009/TOB/S/2009SB-00899-R00-SB.htm.

My reading of the bill shows nothing that I would consider unConstitutional. I also see nothing about forcing schools or parents to teach gay marriage. It looks like they're just changing the language of existing marriage legislation so as to no longer exclude same-sex couples. Despite ActNowCT's claims, this does not make gays a privileged class. It extends to them a legal right that they have been excluded from. That's a far cry from taking away religious rights. This is a legal right, not a religious right. There's a huge difference.

As far as religious rights are concerned, they look pretty well-protected to me:

Sec. 7. (NEW) (Effective from passage) No member of the clergy authorized to join persons in marriage pursuant to section 46b-22 of the general statutes shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the first amendment to the United States Constitution or section 3 of article first of the Constitution of the state.


I guess that SOMETHING BIG & BAD really does exist, but it's not Bill 899. It's the fear-mongering propagandists who use devious, underhanded tricks to get what they want. I wish I could tell you who those propagandists are, but on the ActNowCT website, they simply call themselves "concerned Connecticut citizens", with no way to figure out who exactly they are, which makes them seem even less credible. (Yes, I know I write under a pseudonym, but follow the links and you can figure out who I am in two clicks or less.)

Thanks to the magic of the internet, we all have access to factual information. Unfortunately, many of us never think to look for the facts. Think of all the emails floating around that have been discredited by Snopes, but still get forwarded and are trusted by their recipients. As Barnum's competitor David Hannum said "there's a sucker born every minute" (unless, of course, the internet is lying and Barnum really was the one who said it... in which case I just got suckered again.)

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

The reason that I was given to oppose 899 was that this would somehow require churches to rent their church halls to homosexual newlyweds so they can have their receptions there, and that it would be considered discriminatory for the priest or minister to decline them on the basis that they were a gay married couple.

I was also told that, by that logic, the church in question would also be required to rent out its hall to the Ku Klux Klan regardless of whether that church supports or condones the Klan, as it would be discriminatory for the church to rent out the hall to the Klan on the basis of not agreeing with the principles of white supremacy. I'm not sure why said church would have to rent itself out to the Klan, though.

Bryan P. Baker said...

After doing some research on my own, I think the concern is based in the right of refusal. It is the feelings of those behind the ad that a religious group should have the right to refuse services to any group it does not agree with.

While the 1st Amendment says that the government shall not make any law prohibiting the free expression of religion, we have seen groups pressured to accept people they disapprove of, for the sake of civil rights. As an example see the Boy Scouts being pressured to accept homosexual Scout Masters.

I'm guessing that some of the groups behind this campaign (including the Norwich Diocese of the Catholic Church) would be happy with an amendment make the religious protections that are implicit through the 1st Amendment, explicit in this bill. (In fact, that is what Bishop Cote of Norwich was asking for support of at mass on Sunday.)

If that is done then a church, or group like the K of C, would not have to worry about being sued by a homosexual couple who wants their wedding reception in thier hall.

This is in NO way a statement in support of the ad. You are 100% right that it is fear-mongering. But, as you know from local politics, sometimes fear-mongering sells.

Waterbury Girl said...

Freedom comes with limitations.

While I certainly understand the fear that a church or group has about potentially losing their right to control how their facilities are used, I don't see how they have the right to discriminate against gays. If a Muslim or Jewish couple want to rent the facility, is it okay for the Christian group to refuse them because they disagree with their religious beliefs? For that matter, is it okay for Catholics to refuse to allow Protestants to use their building?

In the 1840s, it was perfectly okay for Protestants in Waterbury to refuse to rent halls to Catholics for religious reasons. How is that different?

If a rental facility is available for any member of the public, then it has to be available for ANY member of the public.

If the Boy Scouts refused to allow blacks or Jews or Muslims to be Scout Masters, would that be okay?

No one chooses to be gay. Why is it okay to discriminate against them because they have accepted themselves as God made them?

Making religious protections explicit in the bill is probably impossible and not really relevant to this bill as it defines marriage, not rental facilities. If it were do-able, I would imagine that it would be a separate bill and it would be very problematic. How would it be phrased? "Any building owner offering rental facilities is allowed to refuse to rent their building to homosexuals for religious reasons"? How is that different from allowing landlords to refuse to rent apartments to gays? How is that different from a restaurant refusing service to gays? If discrimination against gays becomes protected by law, gays will have fewer legal rights than child molesters who are out of jail and back in the community.

There's a domino effect with discrimination. If discrimination against gays is legally protected, then discrimination against another group will be next.

Anonymous said...

You echo the party line that homosexuals do not choose to be gay, but homosexuals do choose to commit homosexual acts, which is what the Catholic Church considers to be sinful. There is nothing discriminatory about that rhetoric because the Church also considers certain sexual acts between heterosexual couples, like adultery and pre-marital sex, to be sinful. Homosexuals have not been singled out by anyone who doesn't live under a rock (like Westboro Baptists).

On your "domino effect" comment, what I don't understand is why a hall owner should have to rent out their hall to any group that wishes to rent the hall. What if the church doesn't want to be associated with the Ku Klux Klan but the KKK wants to have some kind of white supremacy rally in the hall? Is the church discriminating against white supremacists by refusing to rent to them, or is it sympathizing with white supremacists by hosting them? I can see that going over well in a predominantly black church.

Waterbury Girl said...

I don't know what the party (I assume you mean the Democrats) line is, so I can't comment on that. My opinions are entirely my own (believe me when I say that no one who knows me would ever accuse me of not thinking for myself!).

Regarding the issue of homosexuality, I have three comments. First, I believe that love comes from God, while hatred and deception come from the Devil. If two people love one another, regardless of gender, that's a gift from God. If a homosexual spends his or her life pretending to be straight, that's an insidious lie and deception that serves the Devil (to put it all in religious terms!).

Second, imagine the situation is reversed. If you're straight, imagine that you live in a society that requires homosexual behavior and frowns on heterosexual love. Asking a straight person to behave as if homosexual is the same as asking a gay person to behave as if heterosexual.

Third, while some people consider homosexuality a sin, others do not. As you might have deduced, according to my religious beliefs homosexuality is not a sin, while a homosexual living a lie and pretending to be straight is a sin.

Now for the tricky part: where does the line get drawn? If the KKK wants to rent a church hall and the church refuses to do business with them, does the KKK have a legal ground to sue the church? I don't know the answer.

Take it a step further: as a friend said to me last night, restaurants can refuse service to people who are not wearing shirts or shoes. There's a wide gulf between that and allowing gay marriage, but it gets at a concept that I think is fascinating. How do we, as a society of people with widely disparate beliefs and opinions, determine which laws and regulations should exist?

The bottom line for me is that we absolutely can not have legislation that protects discrimination. That's a huge step backwards in our development as a people.

Anonymous said...

Excellent points about dishonest advertising and lobbying. The actnow website does have a link to the bill. It's on right side of the home page, in the grey colored box with the news updates.

At my church, we understand the Bible to teach that all sexual actions other than between one man and one woman in marriage, are wrong because they deviate from God's design and instruction. This view would then say that people are naturally born with desires for sexually relations outside of this design, but we would identify those desires as temptations, which would become sin if acted on. While I think that our beliefs should not determine civil rights for others, neither do I think that others should be able to take away my right to hold to these beliefs.

We deal with the issue of discrimination in use of our facilities by only offering their use to our members. And our members, of course, all hold to the same understanding of the scriptures on this and most other issues.

P.S. I found your blog because I missed a call (fortunately) from that creepy phone number and I googled to find out who it was... Your blog is well written, well thought out and definitely stimulated some thought on my behalf. Thanks.

Waterbury Girl said...

Thank you for pointing out the link. Was it always there and I just didn't see it?

Thank you also for your well written, well thought out response.

Members-only usage is probably the only way to control who uses church facilities.

Anonymous said...

"Party line" does not necessarily refer to a political party; when I used that term I meant that what you said is a lot like what others with similar views say.

I think you also misunderstood what I said about homosexuality. Homosexuality is not considered a sin, but homosexual acts are. This does not mean that homosexuals must live like heterosexuals, or live a lie to use your words. Just as the other anonymous poster stated, the desires are sinful if they are acted on. I'm not sure how you took what I said to mean that homosexuals must live and act like heterosexuals, but a lot of people I speak with tend to assume that that's what I mean, probably as a sort of straw man argument against me.

While I don't approve of fear-mongering ad campaigns, I am concerned about how this and future legislation will affect religious organizations. If, for instance, religious charitable organizations have to cease certain operations in order to adhere to their principles, it could be a severe blow to the state.

Anonymous said...

I looked into it as well, and I think the ad, which appears to use deceptive tactics, is focused on Sec 18 of the bill, calling for the repeal of Section 46a-81r of the CT General Statutes.

If you really want to analyze the bill, look at what this section says and ask yourself honestly what could happen if this section were repealed. It may make sense of the advertisement... at least in part. You can read the description of Sec. 18 in the Bill Analysis at http://www.cga.ct.gov/2009/BA/2009SB-00899-R000680-BA.htm. Keep in mind that religious freedom means more than just marrying people and renting out facilities.

Waterbury Girl said...

Hmmm. (a better response is forthcoming, but work is taking up 12+ hours a day right now).

Jason Van Stone said...

This isn't in response to any pos or Raechel's post, just my two cents.

Another aspect to consider is that just a month or so ago, a few democrat state reps caused a firestorm by asserting the idea that the State had the right to oversee the finances of the church. This was due to a couple poorly run and possibly corrupt churches losing its flocks money.

This move by the left to bring the church under state control didn't sit well and was fought and the state reps backed down. So the religious groups are wary (and maybe rightly so) of the lawmakers.

I don't see 899 in religious terms. I see 899 as yet another state mandate on private business. Sure in this case the business is church related which makes the issue even more politically charged.

899 is the legislature capitulating to the activist judiciary and their findings of last year that same-sex marriage was legal in CT. It went a step further however and said that the church or religious groups cannot choose whether or not to afford the use of its property to those who they may not agree with.

This is what is unconstitutional. The government has no right to tell you, me, or the church what to do with our private property.

Sadly, we have let the government slowly invade the private sector in recent years with: no smoking laws in privately owned restaurants, trans-fat bans, seat belt laws, motorcycle helmets, etc.

If I want to open a banquet hall the allows smoking, cooks in transfat and only serves people over 6 foot 9 in height, I have that right. The marketplace may not agree and I have to shut down for lack of business, but that is ok. The next time around, maybe I make the place more conducive to the wants of marketplace and offer no smoking dining and open to people of all heights. The market will decide for me, not the government.

So to tie this back in to 899. The State should have no right to tell the churches whom they can rent their halls to, no right to tell the K of C who to admit (I was denied membership due to my being divorced, and guess what... that is ok) or to tell any other religious (or any other non-public for that matter) group to do anything that goes against their principles.

Take a second and think of a belief you hold dear and then pretend the government one day decided it was illegal and that you had to immediately being practicing the exact opposite of your belief. You might be upset and angry too.

Also- to the poster a few above. Many catholic charities that facilitated adoptions have been forced to close due to the fact they wouldn't entertain gay parents wishing to adopt. So the many kids they helped place each year have found their way into the foster care system rather than the homes of loving parents. A loss for the kid, the prospective parents and the taxpayers, that seems like a terrific solution.