I was surprised to learn yesterday that New Mexico has a “RFRA” (aka “religious freedom”) law on its books, similar to the one recently signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana.
One big difference between the two, though? New Mexico’s law CANNOT be used as a justification to refuse to offer services to LGBT individuals.
The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that a wedding photographer who refused service to a lesbian couple was in fact discriminating. The text of the entire (excellently written) ruling can be found here (PDF), but I want to call out my favorite part:
At its heart, this case teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others. A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of our nation’s strengths, demands no less. The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead. The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more. But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.
In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.
Sadly, the Indiana RFRA has language that allows individuals to invoke the RFRA as a defense when they’ve discriminated against others–meaning “the law provides a defense against a private discrimination suit.” So, there’s no chance that a future suit could result in an interpretation of the RFRA like New Mexico’s.
An aside: in reading through the public statements about Indiana’s RFRA, I noticed that the Indiana House Republicans’ “fact sheet” on the matter contained more concrete examples of persons and businesses whose rights were protected than the Freedom Indiana statement, which only raises a number of possibilities for future discrimination. Both sides lacked links and citations that back up most of their claims. But I guess I shouldn’t expect evidence when reading propaganda (from the right or left).