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Debunking The Four Most Commonly Cited Anti-Equality Horror Stories

October 10, 2012 3:38 pm ET

In the lead up to this November’s referenda on same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington, anti-gay groupsin those states have begun peddling misleading and widely debunked myths about marriage equality’s impact on religious liberty and parental rights.

CLAIM: Children In Massachusetts Were Forced To Learn About Same-Sex Marriage

REALITY: Same-Sex Marriage Won’t Affect School Curricula

CLAIM: Religious Adoption Agencies In DC, Boston Were "Forced" To Shut Down For Refusing Service To Same-Sex Couples

REALITY: Catholic Adoption Agencies Voluntarily Ended Their Services

CLAIM: Business Owners Have Been Sued For Refusing Service To Same-Sex Weddings

REALITY: Lawsuits Were Filed Over Violations Of  Non-Discrimination Laws

CLAIM: Churches Will Lose Tax Exempt Status For Denying Services To Same-Sex Couples 

REALITY: New Jersey Church Was Able To Keep Its Tax Exemption


CLAIM: Children In Massachusetts Were Forced To Learn About Same-Sex Marriage

Protect Marriage Maine: Children Will “Immediately” Learn About Same-Sex Marriage In School. From Protect Marriage Maine’s “The Threat to Marriage” page:

Unfortunately, children will not have to wait years to see the negative consequences of redefining marriage. They will start to see it immediately in school, just as kids in Massachusetts did when marriage was redefined there. Imagine the confusion a child will experience - told at home and in church that marriage is between a man and a woman, but taught at school that such views amount to bigotry and discrimination. [Protect Marriage Maine, accessed 10/9/12]

Maryland Marriage Alliance: Schools Will Have No Choice But To Teach This New Genderless Institution. From the Maryland Marriage Alliance’s “Consequences of Redefining Marriage” page:

Whenever schools educate children about marriage, which happens throughout the curriculum, they will have no choice but to teach this new genderless institution. In Massachusetts, kids as young as second grade were taught about gay marriage in class. The courts ruled that parents had no right to prior notice, or to opt their children out of such instruction. [Maryland Marriage Alliance, accessed 10/9/12]

Minnesota For Marriage’s Chuck Darrell: Schools “Will Have No Choice” But To Teach Students About Gay Marriage. In a June 4 letter to the editor, Minnesota for Marriage Communications Director Chuck Darrell wrote:

[W]henever schools educate children about marriage, they will have no choice but to teach this new definition.

In Massachusetts, second graders were taught about gay marriage in class. The courts ruled that parents had no right to prior notice, or to opt their children out of the class. [Fergus Falls Journal6/4/12]

Preserve Marriage Washington: Children “At A Very Young Age” Will Be Taught About Gay Marriage. From the Preserve Marriage Washington “Why Marriage Matters” page:

Perhaps most profoundly, children at a very young age will be taught in school that marriage is between any two adults, no matter what they have been taught at home, in church or in their ethnic traditions. Under the law, those who believe otherwise will be treated as the legal and moral equivalent of bigots. [Preserve Marriage Washington, accessed 10/8/12]

Seattle Times’ Danny Westneat: Child Indoctrination Myth Is Going To Be A “Main Focus” Of Washington Anti-Equality Campaign. In an October 6 Seattle Times column, staff columnist Danny Westneat wrote:

"Consider this," said the appeal from the National Organization for Marriage, describing what life could be like if "ordinary, faith-filled Americans," like me, don't rally now.

"Young children will be taught in public schools that it's perfectly normal for men to marry other men."

How I got on the in-list of this group whose campaign tactics I once called "despicable" I have no idea. I guess God has a strange sense of humor. But I'm glad I did because the letter made clear this save-the-children argument is going to be a main focus of the anti-gay-marriage effort in the coming weeks.

It goes like this: Even if you're ambivalent about gays marrying, you should vote no on Referendum 74 anyway. Because once gay marriage is legal, the schools are going to start forcing homosexual values on your kids. [The Seattle Times10/6/12, emphasis added]

REALITY: Same-Sex Marriage Won’t Affect School Curricula

PolitFact: ‘School Indoctrination’ Myth is “False.” After investigating claims that Massachusetts’ public schools teach young children about gay marriage, PolitiFact concluded that the ‘school indoctrination’ myth was “false”:

Bottom line: The National Organization for Marriage mailing says that Massachusetts public schools teach kindergartners about gay marriage. The wording, including the present tense verb, gives the impression this is happening now, in many schools.

But the group’s only evidence is two incidents five years ago. It’s possible that somewhere, in one of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, other kindergartners have been taught about same-sex marriage. But NOM couldn’t cite any other examples. We find its statement False. [PolitiFact, 2/10/11

Maine Equality Opponent: ‘Indoctrination’ Myth Is “Not A Completely Accurate Statement And We All Know It Isn’t.” In a documentary about Maine’s 2009 vote on same-sex marriage, Marc Mutty, who was chair of the state’s anti-equality group, confessed:

"We use a lot of hyperbole and I think that's always dangerous," says Mutty during a Yes on 1 strategy session, at the time on leave from his job as public affairs director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine.

"You know, we say things like 'Teachers will be forced to (teach same-sex marriage in schools)!' " he continues. "Well, that's not a completely accurate statement and we all know it isn't, you know?"

"No," interjects a woman off-camera. "We don't say that."

"Let's look back at our ads and see what we say," Mutty persists. "And I think we use hyperbole to the point where, you know, it's like 'Geez!' " [Portland Press Herald4/17/11, emphasis added]

CLAIM: Religious Adoption Agencies In DC, Boston Were "Forced" To Shut Down For Refusing Service To Same-Sex Couples

Protect Marriage Maine: Catholic Charities Have Been “Forced” To Close Their Adoption Agencies. From Protect Marriage Maine’s “The Threat to Marriage” page:

Religious groups like Catholic Charities in Boston and Washington DC have had to choose between fulfilling their social mission based on their religious beliefs, or acquiescing to this new definition of marriage. They have, for example, been forced to close their charitable adoption agencies. [Protect Marriage Maine, accessed 10/9/12]

Maryland Marriage Alliance: Catholic Charities Have Been "Forced" To End Adoption Services. From the Maryland Marriage Alliance’s “Consequences of Redefining Marriage” page:

Religious groups like Catholic Charities in Boston and Washington DC have had to choose between fulfilling their social mission based on their religious beliefs, or acquiescing to this new definition of marriage. They have, for example, been forced to close their charitable adoption agencies. [Maryland Marriage Alliance, accessed 10/9/12]

Minnesota For Marriage’s Darrell: Adoption Agencies Were “Forced To Close” For Discriminating Against Same-Sex Couples. In a June 4 letter to the editor, Minnesota for Marriage’s Darrell wrote:

Religious groups like Catholic Charities in Boston, Washington, D.C. and Illinois have been forced to close their charitable adoption agencies because they believe children deserve a mother and a father and their religious beliefs prohibit adopting children to same-sex couples. [Fergus Fall Journal6/4/12]

Preserve Marriage Washington: Religious Adoption Agencies Will Be Forced To Close Down. From Preserve Marriage Washington’s “The Threat To Marriage” page:

Religious groups like Catholic Charities in Boston and Washington DC have had to choose between fulfilling their social mission based on their religious beliefs, or acquiescing to this new definition of marriage. They have, for example, been forced to close their charitable adoption agencies. [Preserve Marriage Washington, accessed 10/8/12

REALITY: Catholic Adoption Agencies Voluntarily Ended Their Services

Massachusetts’ Catholic Charities Chose To Stop Providing Adoption Services Instead Of Serving Same-Sex Couples. According to the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) blog:

So here’s a little reality check. Catholic Charities of Boston was not forced out of the adoption business because of marriage equality in Massachusetts. The organization voluntarily ceased doing adoptions after the state’s four Catholic Bishops got wind that gay parents had been adopting kids through Catholic Charities from an October 2005 Boston Globe story. Not surprisingly, all of this happened as the Massachusetts Legislature was wrestling with whether to put an anti-gay marriage amendment on the statewide ballot, which the local Catholic hierarchy supported wholeheartedly.

[…]

 Catholic Charities was accepting state funds to provide adoption services and was thus bound by the state’s gay-inclusive anti-discrimination law not to reject qualified adoptive parents based on sexual orientation. Oh, and by the way, the non-discrimination law has been on the books since 1989—long before marriage equality was but a doodle on [civil rights advocate] Mary Bonauto’s legal pad. [GLAD.org, 3/10/11, emphasis original]

Catholic Charities Of Boston Was Never Denied An Adoption License. According to a GLAD fact sheet on Catholic Charities and adoption services in Massachusetts:

Did the state “deny” Catholic Charities of Boston “its adoption agency license”?

No. For 17 years Catholic Charities of Boston complied with non-discrimination laws and put the best interests of children first, in some cases placing a child with gay or lesbian parents. Catholic Charities chose to close down its adoption services. At no point was it denied an adoption license. [GLAD.org, 12/22/11]

Family Equality Council: The Choice To Stop Public Adoption Services “Was Made By Catholic Charities Alone.” Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, wrote in an email to Equality Matters:

The decision to end public adoption services in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia was made by Catholic Charities alone. They wanted to continue to receive public funding without adhering to the law and when the state refused to make an exception for them they balked at providing critical social services to youth.

This has nothing to do with the government trying to impose values on religion. On the contrary, this had to do with the Catholic Charities trying to impose its values on children and families who needed social services. [Jennifer Chrisler email, 1/10/12, emphasis added]

Catholic Adoption Agencies Can Discriminate Against Same-Sex Couples In Private Adoption Services. Steve Majors, director of communications for the Family Equality Council, wrote in an email to Equality Matters:

Catholic Charities facilitates relatively few public adoptions nationwide. In areas where they’ve declined to comply with existing non-discrimination rules and stopped doing public placements (Massachusetts, D.C., parts of California – and will be the likely result in IL where the issue is still working its way through the state courts) there has been little to no impact on the state’s ability to place children. Other adoption agencies have agreed to step in and continue the work of finding children their forever families.

Catholic Charities and other religiously affiliated organizations who receive public funding should be obligated to follow the same non-discrimination laws that other agencies adhere to.  If they place their own religious objections ahead of the law and the best interests of kids, they should withdraw from conducting public adoptions. They are free to continue facilitating private adoptions. [Steve Majors email, 9/9/11, emphasis added]

CLAIM: Business Owners Have Been Sued For Refusing Service To Same-Sex Weddings

Protect Marriage Maine: Innkeepers Are Being Sued For Refusing To Host Same-Sex Weddings. From Protect Marriage Maine’s “The Threat to Marriage” page:

Christian innkeepers in Vermont and Illinois are being sued over their refusal to make their facilities available for same-sex weddings despite offers to refer the couples to other providers and in spite of the deeply-held religious views of the inn-keepers. [Protect Marriage Maine, accessed 10/9/12]

Maryland Marriage Alliance: Wedding Professionals Will Be Punished For Discriminating Against Gays And Lesbians. From the Maryland Marriage Alliance’s “The Threat to Marriage” page:

Wedding professionals have been fined for refusing to participate in a same-sex ceremony. Christian innkeepers in Vermont and Illinois are being sued over their refusal to make their facilities available for same-sex weddings despite offers to refer the couples to other providers and in spite of the deeply-held religious views of the inn-keepers. The outcome in Vermont? The innkeepers will no longer accept any wedding-related events. Surely a big blow to their income – and to their religious freedom. [Maryland Marriage Alliance, accessed 10/9/12]

Minnesota For Marriage’s Darrell: Marriage Equality Will Trigger “Litigation Against Individuals, Small Business And Religious Organizations.” In a June 4 letter to the editor, Minnesota for Marriage’s Darrell wrote:

Legal experts on both sides of the issue warn of a “sea of change” of litigation against individuals, small business and religious organizations. And it’s already begun in other states where genderless marriage has been forced on the people either through the courts or the legislatures.

For example, Christian innkeepers have been sued for refusing to allow same-sex reception in their bed and breakfast. Wedding photographers who do not wish to be involved in a same-sex wedding have been fined and sued. [Fergus Fall Journal6/4/12]

Preserve Marriage Washington: Business Owners Have Been Fined For Refusing To Participate In Same-Sex Weddings. From Preserve Marriage Washington’s “The Threat To Marriage” page:

Wedding professionals have been fined for refusing to participate in a same-sex ceremony. Christian innkeepers in Vermont and Illinois are being sued over their refusal to make their facilities available for same-sex weddings despite offers to refer the couples to other providers and in spite of the deeply-held religious views of the inn-keepers. [Preserve Marriage Washington, accessed 10/8/12]

REALITY: Lawsuits Were Filed Over Violations Of Non-Discrimination Laws

Vermont Inn Owners Violated The State’s Non-Discrimination Law. The inn owners in Vermont were sued for violating the state’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation:

The issue here is not same-sex marriage but rather existing state laws that prohibit discrimination. For example, the manager of the Vermont inn cited the owners’ “personal feelings” as the reason why it refused to host the lesbian couple’s wedding. But the Vermont Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act prohibits public accommodations – such as inns, restaurants and schools that serve the public – “from denying goods and services based on customers’ sexual orientation.” [Marriage Fact Check, accessed 10/10/12]

Illinois Bed & Breakfast Owners Were Sued For Violating The State’s Human Rights Act. According to the Civil Rights Complaint filed against the owners:

The Illinois Human Rights Act (“ACT”) is intended to prevail and eliminate discriminatory practices in places of public accommodation because of an individual’s sexual orientation.

Under the Act, a “place of public accommodation” is “an inn, hotel, motel or other place of lodging, except for an establishment located within a building that contains not more than 5 units for rent or hire and that is actually occupied by the proprietor of such establishment as the residence of such proprietor.”

It is a civil rights violation under the Act “for any person on the basis of unlawful discrimination to… [d]eny or refuse to another the full and equal enjoyment of the facilities, goods, and services of any public place of accommodation.” [Civil Rights Complaint, 11/1/11, internal citations removed for clarity]

  • Same-Sex Marriage Is Not Legal In Illinois. [Human Rights Campaign, accessed 10/10/12

New Mexico Photographer Was Sued For Violating The State’s Human Rights Act. Judges have thrice ruled that a New Mexico photographer violated the state’s Human Rights Act by refusing to photograph the same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony:

The New Mexico Human Rights Commission and District Judge Alan Malott have concluded in rulings in 2008 and 2009 that the studio violated the Human Rights Act.

Malott found the studio is a “public accommodation” — an establishment that provides services to the public — and as such may not refuse its services on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex or sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical or mental handicap. [Albuquerque Journal6/5/12]

  • Same-Sex Marriage Is Not Legal In New Mexico. [Human Rights Campaign, accessed 10/10/12]

CLAIM: Churches Will Lose Tax Exempt Status For Denying Services To Same-Sex Couples

Protect Marriage Maine: New Jersey Methodist Church Lost Its Tax-Exempt Status For Refusing To Host A Same-Sex Commitment Ceremony. From Protect Marriage Maine’s “The Threat to Marriage” page:

Churches and pastors will also face direct consequences if marriage is redefined. The word of God will be considered outright bigotry-which is what a federal judge in California ruled when he declared that marriage was unconstitutional. Churches that provide facilities for weddings will be told to provide them for same-sex weddings as well. That is exactly what happened in New Jersey, where a Methodist church group lost part of its tax exemption for refusing to make its facilities available for a same-sex commitment ceremony. [Protect Marriage Maine, accessed 10/9/12]

Maryland Marriage Alliance: Religious Groups Will Lose Their State Tax Exemption. From the Maryland Marriage Alliance’s “Consequences of Redefining Marriage” page:

Religious groups who have refused to make their facilities available for same-sex couples have lost their state tax exemption. [Maryland Marriage Alliance, accessed 10/9/12]

REALITY: New Jersey Church Was Able To Keep Its Tax Exemption

New Jersey Church Lost Its “Green Acres” Tax Exemption For Violating Non-Discrimination Law. The Ocean Grove Methodist church lost its “Green Acres” real estate tax exemption for violating the state’s non-discrimination law:

In July 1989 respondent applied for a Green Acres real-estate tax exemption for Lot 1, Block 1.01, which includes the Pavilion and the adjacent boardwalk and beach area.  The application describes the area as public in nature.  The Green Acres program is designed to preserve open space and the statutory scheme authorizes a tax exemption for non-profit corporations utilizing property for conservation or recreational purposes.  One condition of the exemption is that the property be “open for public use on an equal basis.”

[…]

The [Law Against Discrimination (LAD)] makes it unlawful for the owner of “any place of public accommodation” to refuse its use on the basis of sexual orientation or civil-union status.  Our courts have evolved tests for assessing whether a location is one of public accommodation. We look first to the statute.  The LAD broadly defines public accommodation to include any “boardwalk, or seashore accommodation; any auditorium, meeting place, or hall.” The Boardwalk Pavilion as a structure falls within or near these examples and thus has the look of a place of public accommodation.  Searching further we inquire as to ties with government.  Respondent’s Green Acres tax exemption is particularly relevant here.  One condition of that exemption was that the entire lot, which includes the Pavilion, remains open to the public on an equal basis.  That was the promise respondent made to the State of New Jersey. The State understood that promise to encompass activities within the Pavilion, including wedding ceremonies. [Ocean Grove Ruling, 1/12/12, emphasis added, internal citations removed for clarity]

  • Same-Sex Marriage Is Not Legal In New Jersey. [Human Rights Campaign, accessed 10/10/12]

The Church Replaced Its “Green Acres” Tax Exemption With An Appropriate Religious Exemption. According to the ruling issued by Judge Solomon A. Metzger concerning the Ocean Grove tax exemption:

Respondent argues that it didn’t need  a Green Acres tax exemption for the Pavilion; it could at any time have obtained the same benefit by applying for a tax exemption as a religious organization.  Indeed, after these events that is exactly what it did.  We are, however, bound by the facts that were, not those that might have been, or that came to pass in the aftermath of petitioners’ application.  Respondent accepted a particular form of tax exemption that required it to keep the Pavilion open to the publicon an equal basis. [Ocean Grove Ruling, 1/12/12, emphasis added, internal citations removed for clarity]

Judge’s Decision Reaffirmed Religious Liberty. According to Judge Metzger’s ruling:

As to “free exercise,” the LAD is a neutral law of general application designed to uncover and eradicate discrimination; it is not focused on or hostile to religion. To the contrary, it carves away exceptions on behalf of religious organizations. I do not believe that the facts pose a true question of religious freedom... Respondent can rearrange Pavilion operations, as it has done, to avoid this clash with the LAD.  It was not, however, free to promise equal access, to rent wedding space to heterosexual couples irrespective of their tradition, and then except these petitioners.  [Ocean Grove Ruling, 1/12/12, emphasis added, internal citations removed for clarity]

Research intern Alessandra DiMonda contributed to this post.