As poll after poll demonstrates, public opinion is on the side of marriage equality. That seismic shift in political consciousness was a factor in the June 26 Supreme Court ruling striking down state marriage bans. Now, however, powerful and well-funded political forces have launched a coordinated campaign to limit the impact of that historic ruling. Hiding behind the mask of “religious freedom,” right-wing bigots are throwing up obstacles to obtaining a marriage license and advancing bills to encourage discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities.
The backlash began even before June 26, when in all but 13 states lower court judges overturned archaic laws defining marriage as between “one man and one woman.” Utah and North Carolina passed bills allowing county officials to deny a couple a marriage license on the basis of “sincerely held religious objections.”
Given that the high court found a constitutional basis for marriage equality, these officials have been granted legal cover to violate their oath of office to uphold the Constitution. In other states, county clerks are openly defying governors’ orders to obey federal law. A judge in Toledo, Ohio, is refusing to perform same-sex marriages.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback issued an executive order allowing religious groups, including those receiving state funds, to deny services to same-sex couples. In Arizona, the Maricopa County Attorney is refusing to provide adoption services to LGBTQ potential parents. Michigan legislators passed a bill allowing state-supported “faith-based” agencies to deny couples adoption services on religious grounds.
So-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” bills in Indiana and Arkansas, even in their toned-down revised versions, give businesses the right to violate local anti-discrimination ordinances on religious grounds. An Indiana pizza parlor temporarily closed after publicly proclaiming it would not serve members of the LGBTQ community. This discrimination is normally illegal where civil rights laws cover sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
In Oregon, where legal protections exist, a lesbian couple was awarded $135,000 because a bakery refused to bake their wedding cake. If Oregon had passed one of these bogus religious freedom bills, this bakery would be free to discriminate. A restaurant could refuse to seat customers. A gym could deny membership. A transgender woman could be forced to use the “men’s” room or be publicly humiliated. All of this would be legal if the business owner claims it would “violate my conscience” to serve those deemed “sinners.”
The religious right has made it a priority to pass similar RFRA laws in every state. “Absolutely, we will be talking to lawmakers about providing religious liberties protections,” said Don Hinkle, public policy director for the 600,000-member Missouri Baptist Convention. (lgbtqnation.com) Anyone who claims that treating all people equally “violates their conscience” and suffers consequences for that will be made a martyr by racist, misogynist, anti-LGBTQ bigots seeking to build their base.
With the 2016 presidential elections on the horizon, most of the GOP’s contenders for the nomination are throwing fits over the Supreme Court decision — appealing to the most backward sentiments to build their campaigns.
Some “religious objectors” are going to bizarre extremes. Stories of heterosexual couples divorcing to protest the high court ruling and of pastors threatening self-immolation have received wide media coverage. Nevertheless, the right-wing mobilization to roll back the gains of the LGBTQ movement must be taken seriously.
Religious arguments twist facts
Marriage equality opponents, in promoting RFRA laws, maintain that “forcing” businesses, public officials and service providers to treat all couples equally somehow constitutes religious discrimination and is therefore illegal. Even from a narrow legal standpoint this is a false argument. While there are some religious-based exceptions to the law — such as granting “conscientious objector” status to military service objectors — normally people cannot break laws simply because their religion dictates. A person cannot commit murder because their god told them to, or rob a bank to fill the collection plate. “Sincerely held religious views” do not even allow for leaving unwanted religious tracts in a neighbor’s mailbox.
Where are the legal protections for the priests and nuns who have served six months in jail just for following their conscience and “crossing the line” to shut down the School of the Americas — where our taxes are used to train Latin American militaries in torture and interrogation?
Why then should there be new religious exceptions that allow people to break civil rights laws — which came about through hard struggle — and engage in hateful, hurtful discrimination?
The forces raising the false flag of religious liberty are the same ones who have upheld the Confederate flag as a symbol of “Southern heritage.” The bigots and the capitalists who back them can be pushed back by a united movement of workers and oppressed, built in the spirit of the Stonewall, Ferguson and Baltimore rebellions.