The Hater’s Last Hurrah
As marriage equality heads for its ultimate ruling before the United States Supreme Court later this year, legislatures in several states have been busy waging a desperate campaign to do whatever they can to oppress LGBT Americans in other areas of the law.
Just 2 months into 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is reporting an increase in the kind of legislation that gives religious organizations the right to discriminate on the basis of their faith or belief system. This legislation tends to fall into three basic types:
- legislation that makes it easier to discriminate against LGBT people on the basis of religious freedom,
- legislation that explicitly targets officials who marry same-sex couples, and
- legislation that would permit anyone to refuse to recognize LGBT marriages based on their own personal religious beliefs.
Regarding the first type – legislation based on religious religious freedom – this kind of protection already exists within laws like the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which says the government may not substantially limit a person’s religious freedom unless it can prove a “compelling government interest.” However, some of the legislation now being proposed by states could go well beyond this language.
For example, lawmakers in the states of Arkansas,West Virginia, Indiana, South Dakota and Oklahoma have introduced legislation that would allow any individual or corporation to deny services to LGBT people on account of their religious beliefs. If passed, LGBT or supportive groups and individuals may be denied the right to congregate at public places – such as restaurants or bars – if the corporation or owner’s religion opposed LGBT equality and/or legal rights.
When asked why he introduced this bill, Oklahoma state Senator Joseph Silk (R) said it was because “the homosexual movement is currently the most significant threat to people’s constitutionally protected rights and liberties.”
In West Virginia, a Democrat introduced a similar bill. The lawmaker, state Rep. Rupert Phillips Jr. said he did so because “we need to protect everybody involved in a wedding, from a bakery, a florist, dress shop, caterers. That’s their right to say no.” Phillips’ sister is openly gay.
Other states where variations of this bill have been introduced include Michigan and Wyoming.
The second type of legislation lawmakers are testing out to thwart marriage equality, include efforts to allow clerks to refuse to marry gay and lesbian couples.
Examples include a South Carolina bill that would let government employees refuse to marry gay and lesbian couples, and another that would prevent taxpayer dollars from going to things related to “licensing and support of same sex-marriage.” With some variation, similar bills have been proposed in at least four other states.
A bill introduced in Oklahoma would ban clerks and judges from marrying anyone, making it so that if a couple wants to get a marriage certificate, they have to go to a religious cleric.
Currently, a majority of these bills are only in the introduction stage. However, some are likely to move forward – like the Wyoming religious freedom bill – which passed through to the state Senate on Tuesday.
Michigan’s religious freedom bill is a reintroduction of legislation that passed out of the state House at the end of 2014.
Finally, the third type of legislation being attempted will allow people to refuse to recognize same-sex marriage altogether.
For instance, Utah lawmakers have proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow anyone affiliated with a religious organization or church to avoid recognizing “any ordinance” that the group feels is against its religion. This would give religious groups the right to disregard laws if they contradict with their beliefs. A separate bill in Oklahoma would bar the government from making anyone “treat any marriage … as valid” as long as he or she claimed it violated his or her religious beliefs.
Oklahoma state Sen. Corey Brooks (R), said he is “trying to find a practical way to acknowledge that for the time being, gay marriage is legal in Oklahoma, but also provide legal protection for those whose jobs deal with overseeing or certifying marital unions.”
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