ALBANY, N.Y. -- Will the Knights of Columbus be required to open their halls for gay weddings if New York lawmakers legalize same-sex marriage? Will Catholic adoption agencies be forced to choose between placing children with gay married couples or leaving the business?
As New York moves closer to a vote on legislation that would make it the sixth and largest state where same-sex marriage is allowed, some Republicans are demanding stronger legal protections for religious organizations that object to the practice.
Many states that offer gay marriage or civil unions have some religious exemptions. But in some places, Catholic adoption agencies shut down and at least one religious organization lost its tax-exempt status.
Supporters of gay marriage say there are already adequate protections in New York law, and they have suggested the GOP objections are just a smoke screen. But religious leaders say the fears are genuine.
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“The stakes are huge,” said Ed Mechmann, an attorney and assistant director of the family life office at the Archdiocese of New York. “I think this could have a catastrophic effect on our agencies.”
The New York bill introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo would protect clergy who refuse to perform weddings for gay couples, a provision common in other states with gay marriage. A broader concern was protecting religious groups from discrimination charges if they refuse to provide their facilities or services.
Negotiators for Cuomo and the lawmakers met behind closed doors, so it was not clear where talks stood Friday afternoon, hours before a possible floor vote. But the Catholic establishment in New York, which opposes the bill, was worried that its adoption agencies might close down.
Three Catholic dioceses in Illinois recently announced that they would end their state-funded adoption and foster-care program because of a civil union law that took effect June 1. Catholic Charities had been allowed to refer unmarried or gay couples to other agencies, but lawmakers did not pass an amendment exempting religious groups.
The case mirrors an earlier one in Massachusetts, which in 2004 became the first state to allow gay marriage.
Catholic Charities of Boston announced in 2006 it was getting out of the adoption business rather than comply with the state law.