TN's same-sex wedding bill dies but debate gets new life

A Tennessee bill that would have protected florists, bakers, photographers and other wedding vendors who refused service to same-sex couples died last week, but the debate over it is raging on in Nashville.

First, on Sunday, Russell Moore, head of the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, got into a blog kerfuffle with The Daily Beast over its writers labeling him a hypocrite, citing his stance on the issue. This morning, the National Religious Broadcasters picked up the topic again at their annual convention at Gaylord Opryland, making it part of a conversation about public policies that endanger Christian freedom.

A bill similar to Tennessee's passed in Arizona -- it awaits Gov. Jan Brewer's signature to become law -- and is fueling arguments on both sides.

In an advice column on a website for evangelical church partnership The Gospel Coalition, a wedding photographer asked whether it was OK for him to turn down a same-sex couple's request for his services. "I have photographed weddings of people who were divorced (and I didn't investigate the background), people who were probably cohabiting, people who were most likely unequally yoked to one another, and so on," he wrote.

Moore's answer was basically that a same-sex wedding differs from the other circumstances because, when a same-sex ceremony is over, the couple isn't actually married because they're not sexually compatible. So, in his view, the wedding photographer did the right thing. He compared it to the biblical dilemma in First Corinthians where new Christians wondered whether they should eat meat sacrificed to idols -- which might be OK but still stumble other people.

Daily Beast columnist Kirsten Powers and Religion News Service columnist Jonathan Merritt struck out at Moore's advice in a column headlined Conservative Christians Selectively Apply Biblical Teachings in the Same-Sex Marriage Debate.

"So, Moore -- a sincere Christian and a leader we respect -- is telling Christian vendors that it's okay to do something 'wrong' by providing services for a heterosexual wedding as long as they don't know its unbiblical," they wrote Sunday.

It's not hypocritical, Moore argued back in his Moore to the Point blog, when the incompatibility is obvious, as in a same-sex marriage, than when one would have to engage in a deep investigation to figure out whether a married is unbiblical.

A representative for Moore said he'll be available for additional comment later today.

On Tuesday, the topic reemerged at the NRB International Christian Media Convention, which ends today.

Live tweets from this morning's public policy session captured a hearty debate on the issue of Arizona's bill. Panelists Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, and Craig Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters, said it's unlikely vendors' claims to religious liberty would hold up if they choose not to serve people based on sexual orientation.

But vendors can't be forced to participate in the weddings, and pastors certainly can't be forced to officiate, they agreed. Sekulow said the case of the state trying to force a pastor to perform such a wedding could be successful.

A representative for GLBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said they're working on a media release about their stance on the Arizona bill.

Reach Heidi Hall at 615-726-5977 or on Twitter @HeidiHallTN


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