Overstock executive launches campaign to amend Utah Constitution over religious liberty
He has registered a political action committee, First Freedom PAC, with the state. State records show it has yet to report any funds raised, although Johnson told the Daily Caller that he has “raised low six digits — and we’re not really trying yet.”
It's likely his idea will take hold as same-sex marriage has become a central issue for political and religious conservatives rallying around the cause of religious liberty.
Since the Supreme Court ruled, gay rights advocates have challenged laws in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and they hope the decision will help them in existing legal battles in Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina and Utah.
Religious liberty advocates also point to instances of private businesses being penalized by the state and the courts for not accommodating same-sex couples because it would violate the owners' religious beliefs.
Johnson said he has been asked to broaden the amendment to include private businesses, but he fears that could hurt more than help his proposal. "If it gets broader it will just create more areas of controversy," he said.
But it is unlikely that religious institutions would be forced by the court or the state to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, said Douglas Kmiec, a professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University.
He explained past cases of equal protection trumping religious free exercise have occurred when racial discrimination was the issue. But same-sex marriage doesn't have the historical legacy of violent opposition that racial discrimination has, Kmiec explained, leading some to argue that the court won't draw the same distinction in same-sex marriage cases.
"Nevertheless, I would expect an effort to make religious bodies that do not approve of same-sex marriage ineligible for public benefits," he said, "be it tax exemptions, deductibility of donations, school vouchers and subsidies, and other public programs.”
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