As the LGBTQ communities and many, many, supporters watch the US Supreme Court to see what it will rule regarding same-sex marriage, there is another growing effort that we should be alert to; one that I would term a growing desire to segregate gays and lesbians. It is unlikely that this segregation would be as as vast, offensive and damaging as racial segregation was, but it would still be far less that what Full Equality demands. It is essential to look at this and shine light upon it because the basis of segregationist efforts are defended as Religious Liberty, an ideal as essential to us as Americans as Freedom itself. I believe it is not Religious Liberty at all, but like the controversy still swirling around the issue of reproductive rights, if we allow the Far Religious Right to frame the issue in their language, it will hinder our path to real equality.
The law will give stronger legal standing to people in court who claim the government burdened their ability to practice their religion. The legislation protects “sincerely held religious beliefs” from infringement unless there is “a compelling governmental interest.” The courts will still consider and rule on each matter.
We’ve seen these types of efforts on a smaller scale- individuals generally, small business owners who claim that they can’t provide a service like flowers or photography, or wedding baking for same-sex couples because it is “against their religion.” The Far Right treats these individuals as heroes, especially when they lose due to non-discrimination protections. But a state-wide law, articulating the issue as religious beliefs, is a new tactic to allow persons to discriminate and claim religious liberty as the basis.
Religious Liberty as an American ideal predates Freedom itself, as the Pilgrims fled to this continent to escape religious persecution. Their effort had nothing to do with religious beliefs however, but the practice of religion- what I’d call religious acts. Others deem this the exercise of religion. Here is a snip from a pro-religious liberty site:
In examining the religion clauses of the first amendment, the question arises: “Is the right to the free exercise of religion an unalienable right?” This Article has heretofore indicated that unalienable rights exist and that they are given to all human beings from God. It has implied that the right to the free exercise of religion is an unalienable right of equal stature as the unalienable rights specifically enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. Ample evidence, however, is available to convert this implication into fact.
And in my opinion, I think it is a hard sell to convince anyone that discrimination is a Christian value. In fact the Scriptures are pretty clear when it comes to the importance of hospitality and how we treat others. But that is a different post. Here I simply want to highlight the shift in Far Right efforts to protect beliefs rather than protecting the exercise of religion, and the ramifications it can have towards creating the ability to legally segregate and discriminate. A business can be “no gays allowed” because of the business owner’s beliefs.
No matter how the US Supreme Court decides, we haven’t seen the end to efforts to keep gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans persons as second class citizens.
Photo by: American Life League