God Save the Doomed: The Last Stand of the Religious Right in America
Indiana’s HJR-3 proposed to outlaw same-sex marriage. Walter Beck celebrates the striking down of the bill and sees an end of days for the Religious Right.
“We reserve the right to refuse service to you,
Take your business back to Walgreen’s,
Have you tried your local zoo?” – Kinky Friedman
Recently, there were celebrations here in my home state of Indiana. HJR-3 went down in flames as the state senate refused to put in the second sentence, essentially killing the bill until at least 2016. Before the night ended, news came out of Virginia that a Federal judge struck down their state’s constitutional amendment against marriage equality (ruling pending appeal). I wake up most mornings and read about more and more challenges in Federal court to states’ various marriage laws in the wake of the DOMA ruling last year.
It seems we’re riding the crest of a wave of victory, but the opposition has one more trick up their sleeve to stop us in our tracks.
It started with a photographer and a baker. In New Mexico, a photography service called Elane Photography refused service to lesbian couple, citing their religious beliefs. The New Mexico Supreme Court disagreed and found that Elane Photography violated the anti-discrimination provisions of the New Mexico Human Rights Act.
Sweet Cakes by Melissa is an Oregon bakery who refused service to a lesbian couple on the basis of their religious beliefs. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries found the bakery in violation of the 2007 Oregon Equality Act, which prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation (exemptions are provided for religious organizations).
The photographer and the baker became instant celebrities in Conservative Christian circles, held up as 21st Century Martyrs, casualties in the latest front of the Culture War. Meanwhile, LGBT people continue to face physical violence and legal discrimination encoded in the law here in the Land of the Free (but remember, the baker and the photographer are the real victims here).
Various state legislatures decided they had to act. They had to do something to stop the bakers and the photographers from being the victims. So they started proposing bills to protect religious folk’s sacred right to discriminate against those they don’t like.
Arizona was the first with Senate Bill 1062, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”. The bill would allow any person (defined under the bill as “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation, or other legally entity”) to claim the practice or observance of religion to basically dodge any state anti-discrimination law. This would extend beyond churches and religious affiliated institutions and basically give anybody the right to turn someone way as long as they said the magic words “it’s my religious beliefs”.
The Arizona bill has passed committee and is awaiting further action.
Kansas was quick to follow with House Bill 2453, which would allow religious institutions, churches, and regular business to refuse services or even recognize the validity of same-sex marriages. They would also be allowed to refuse employment, benefits, or social services as well. And if they were sued in court, they would have an absolute defense of claiming “religious beliefs”.
The Kansas bill easily passed the state house with 72-49 vote, but was stopped cold in the state senate after the National press got a hold of the story and made Kansas the laughing stock of the country for anybody with a brain in their heads. Poor Kansas, they have enough of a bad reputation with the gay community as it is, with Topeka being the headquarters of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church. A bill that granted blanket discrimination rights to anybody claiming “religious beliefs” would have just poured salt on an old, festering wound.
Oregon stepped into the fight, with a ballot initiative up for a general vote in November called the “Protect Religious Freedom Initiative” (sponsored by the Oregon Family Council). It would allow individuals claiming “deeply held religious beliefs” to refuse any service, accommodation, products, etc. to any same-sex couple ceremony, be it a wedding, civil union, etc. It would also prohibit a person engaging in such discrimination from facing any civil penalties.
Polls numbers were not available at this time to see where voters stand on this initiative.
Tennessee seems to be the latest state trying out one of these License to Discriminate Bills, state senator Brian Kelsey has introduced Senate Bill 2566. The bill allows individuals, private businesses and local governments alongside churches and religious institutions to refuse services, accommodations, counseling, goods, etc. to any same-sex couple. Furthermore, it would protect such individuals and organizations from any civil or criminal penalties.
Senator Kelsey backed away from the bill once the media got a hold of it and ran him through the shredder over it. Senator Mike Bell has picked up the bill and is moving forward with it.
If any of these bills pass, it’s going be a mess for state courts. Masses of lawyers will need to be raised up at a moment’s notice to either challenge the bill or defend it. Hundreds of millions of in state tax dollars will go up smoke as the legal expenses shoot sky high and the state courts will come to a grinding halt as the states are forced to defend their right to discriminate bills.
What would count as “religious belief”? I’ve been associated with many satirical religions throughout my life – if I lived in a state with such a bill on the books, could I claim Pastafarianism to refuse my services to someone? Or even with a serious religion, could a Muslim shop owner claim his religion in order to refuse to do business with a Christian or Jewish client? Could a Protestant claim his belief and refuse a Catholic customer? I don’t think any of the proponents of these bills are considering the legal mess they would be inviting if these bills passed.
These various states represent the last stand of the American Religious Right. They have conceded the marriage fight; even the major leaders have admitted that they’ve lost that one. But they’re not going to lie down so quietly, they have found a new front with these “right to discriminate” bills being attempted here.
It’s a sign of their hubris and paranoia eating away at what’s left of their minds. They have twisted their minds so hard that they honestly believe they can skirt state anti-discrimination laws by simply proclaiming “religious beliefs”. They have tried to cast themselves in the role of the victims, gnashing their teeth into news microphones and whining to anyone who will listen about how persecuted they are because they can’t use the name of Jesus to throw someone out on the street.
The question is, will the American people believe it? I don’t think they will. Most would agree that a church shouldn’t be forced by law to solemnize a marriage that violates the teachings of the church. That’s one thing. But it’s a far stretch to claim that a private business is a religious institution or engaged in bona fide religious practices. A Christian bookstore? Yeah, that may be counted as a religious organization. But a baker or a photographer? No, you’re a regular public business and thus, you should be subjected to laws governing businesses and that includes anti-discrimination laws.
It’s an ignoble fate for the Religious Right. They rode high into power over thirty years ago, securing the election of Ronald Reagan and maintaining a strong position in the Republican Party for many years afterwards. But now the tides have turned and the American people are waking up and realizing that bigotry cloaked in a Bible is still bigotry. What was once a powerful political force in America now ends their days in a crazed quivering mess, desperately trying to claim victimhood and ensure their rights to act like inhumane bigots “because God said so“. The American people will not weep for them; they will shake their heads sadly and wonder what went wrong.”