The New Religious Right to Discriminate

There is an old axiom that history repeats itself. Some may dispute this claim, but it is hard to argue with what a person can witness happening right in front of them. One just has to pay attention and know history to know what the outcome of certain things will be.

After the Reconstruction period ended following the Civil War, southern states (the old Confederacy) began enacting Jim Crow laws. These laws mandated that all public facilities be segregated. They were also used in an attempt to keep African-Americans from voting and even to keep interracial marriage illegal.

School segregation was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The rest of the Jim Crow laws were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, bans on interracial marriage were not fully struck down until Loving v. Virginia (1967), when the Supreme Court ruled that they violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The same arguments that were used against interracial marriage are now being used against same-sex marriage, i.e. it’s against someone’s religious beliefs, it’s a sin in the Bible, etc.

Now, I’m not here to attack anyone’s religious beliefs as even I have my own. But we must remember that we are a secular country and that the U.S. Constitution is the law of our nation and not the Bible. No local, state, or federal law can violate the document, the individual rights that are enshrined within it, or its subsequent amendments.

This includes the Fourteenth Amendment.

Our Founding Fathers were mostly Christians, but we are not a Christian nation. That particular point was emphasized in the Treaty of Tripoli (1796), which states that the U.S. “is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Our Founding Fathers were mostly Christians, but we are not a Christian nation. We were set up to be a secular nation. We have the right to peacefully worship and practice whatever religion we choose to without government interference, but that right does not extend beyond one’s self. We do not have the right to force others to believe the same way we do.

Britain still has an official religion (the Church of England) and France was under the Catholic Church at the time of our independence. Both religion and government intermingled in these and many other European countries. Our Founding Fathers designed our government to discourage this relationship.

Today, we see the ongoing fight between religion and our secular government on the issue of same-sex marriage. In the past two years, bans on same-sex marriage have been struck down from coast to coast in federal court on the same grounds as the Loving decision.

Now, the Supreme Court has taken up the case once again and this time could make an official ruling for the entire country.

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However, though same-sex marriage could soon be legal nationwide, some are finding new ways to treat the LGBT community like second-class citizens.

Instead of being called something like Jim Crow laws, these laws are referred to as “religious freedom laws.” In much the same way that the old Jim Crow laws allowed businesses to legally refuse service to African-Americans, these new laws allow any business or institution the right to refuse service to anyone based on the operator’s religious beliefs.

The purpose of these laws is to “protect” people who work in the service industry from having to provide their services for same-sex weddings if it goes against their religious beliefs.

In February 2014, Republican Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona vetoed SB 1062, which critics argued would have legalized discrimination against the LGBT community. Brewer was pressured to reject the law by several business leaders who believed it would hurt the state’s economy.

More states are now taking up this exact same issue and some are poised to put these policies into law. Indiana Governor Mike Pence, for example, signed the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” on Thursday after it cleared both chambers of the state Legislature.

Some of these laws are written so vaguely that they could extend well beyond just same-sex marriage. The “religious freedom laws” will eventually end up in the courts and will be subsequently overturned via the Fourteenth Amendment.

If someone is a Christian, can he or she refuse service to someone in the Jewish community based solely on a difference of religion? No.

The Bible states that women are inferior to men and that women should obey men. So do Christians have the right to refuse service to a woman if she is not accompanied by a man or has a different opinion than a man? No.

Why? Because in a secular society, though a person may have the right to practice his or her religion freely, they do not have the right to force those beliefs on others. Everyone is supposed to be treated equally under the law.

Again, people have the right to their religious views. No one can force an individual to accept same-sex marriage if it goes against their religious views.

However, that right still does not extend to discriminatory actions against the LGBT community. If a person runs a business that provides a service to weddings and doesn’t want to provide that service to a same-sex wedding, there are a couple of options:

  1. They can find a new job that will take them out of that situation; or
  2. They can grow up and act like a rational adult and do the job they are paid to do.

There are times when we blur the line between religious freedom and secular government. It is imperative that we remember why this line was put in place by our Founding Fathers, and why we’ve amended the Constitution to specify that all citizens are free and equal under the law.

Using religion to discriminate is still discrimination and is still wrong. And as history has proven before, it is also unconstitutional.

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Executive Responsibility to Enforce Laws

In the past week, the Oregon Attorney General has stated that her office will no longer defend the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.  (Bloomberg)  This has come at a time when the voters of that state look to be voting on the issue to revoke the ban.  In recent months and even in the past year, we have seen several governors and attorneys general refuse to defend certain discriminatory laws.  Even President Obama (along with Attorney General Eric Holder) refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court last year.

Coming from the side where such decisions are of great benefit, it is usually something to cheer.  However, I must also look at things in terms of the role of government.  Here we have executives (both state and federal) determining unilaterally which laws they will enforce and which they will not.

“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”
Article I, Section 1 – US Constitution

Each branch of government (whether state or federal) has predetermined responsibilities.  The Legislative Branch passes laws while the Executive Branch enforces those laws.  (see also By Order of the Executive)  No where in the responsibilities of the Executive Branch does it state that the chief executive (e.g. Governor, President) has the right to determine which laws to enforce and which ones not to.  The role of the executive is to enforce all of the laws that are passed.

“[H]e shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.”
Article II, Section 3, Clause 5 – US Constitution

According to Humphrey’s Executor v. United States (1935), the Supreme Court ruled that the President (as the Executive) must obey the law and cannot dispense with the law’s execution even if he/she disagrees with it.  Even during the Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794), President Washington stated, “[I]t is my duty to see the Laws executed: to permit them to be trampled upon with impunity would be repugnant to that duty.”

So though we may cheer about progress when an Executive, whether it’s a Governor, Attorney General, or even a President, decides not to enforce a discriminatory law against same-sex marriage, we must also be wary.  We are giving our approval for one person to decide if a law is enforced or not.  This can set a dangerous precedent.

If a law is detrimental to the citizens then it should be either ruled unconstitutional in the courts (if it violates part of the Constitution) or repealed/amended through the legislative process.  Our government has been set up so that one person does have full authority.  And any Executive that fails to enforce the laws that have been passed by the legislature  has failed to uphold their responsibilities of the office.

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Just because we might tend to think that the Executive is doing the right thing now in not enforcing or defending such discriminatory laws, what will we say when another Executive decides to not enforce or defend another law that could be detrimental to the public?  We don’t get to pick and choose which laws to obey once they have been passed.

If a law has been passed that is harmful to the people then we have legal ways of reversing it.  We have the freedom of speech and assembly that is guaranteed by the Fist Amendment to the Constitution.  We can elect new legislators and an Executive so that they can repeal the law.  We can send a lawsuit through the court system to have them rule as to whether that particular law violates the Constitution.  Regardless, allowing an Executive to have the sole authoritarian role of determining whether a law is enforced/defended is not a legal option and is dangerous to overall society.

The Progress of Gay Rights in 2013

Last week, both Illinois and Hawai’i passed same-sex marriage making them the 15th and 16th states to do so.  Overall, 2013 has been quite a year for the LGBT community.  These last two states just seem to put the icing on the proverbial cake.  It all comes on the heals of the 2012 election where voters in three states (Maine, Maryland, and Washington) approved same-sex marriage and in the state of Minnesota, rejected a ban on it.

So what has transpired during the year?  Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, and New Jersey all passed same-sex marriage.  The first three were passed by the state legislatures while New Jersey was done through the New Jersey Superior Court (Garden State Equality v. Dow).  With 14-states and DC (this excludes Illinois and Hawai’i), the total population living in the various states that have same-sex marriage is roughly 104-million (33% of the population).  This number will increase with two newest states being added into the mix.

In Colorado, civil unions were legalized in May.  And starting in late August, several counties in New Mexico began issuing same-sex marriage licenses.  Currently, New Mexico has no statutes against gay marriage or in favor of them.  There is a case in the courts currently seeking clarification as to whether banning/denying same-sex marriage in the state would violate the state’s constitution.  The counties in New Mexico that began issuing the licenses did so after various court rulings.

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Then there is the state of California.  In 2008, the legislature passed same-sex marriage.  That was quickly overturned by the voters with Proposition 8 that same year.  Thus started a lengthy court battle.  Lower courts ruled that Prop 8 was unconstitutional.  The Supreme Court (Perry v. Schwarzenegger) ruled that the proponents didn’t have ground to bring the suit and threw out the case leaving the ruling by the lower courts.  California resumed same-sex marriages as a result.

It wasn’t just on the state level where advancement was made.  There were federal developments, as well, as another case made its way to the Supreme Court.  In June, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor.  It made it to where the federal government would recognize same-sex marriages there are performed in states where it is legal.  The federal government then stepped up even more stating that even if a couple lived in a state that did not recognize same-sex marriage, those marriages would be recognized on the federal level so long as they were performed in a state where they are legal.  Other parts of DOMA are now being argued in the courts, as well, especially where states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states where it is legal.

Internationally, most of the focus has been on Russia which passed draconian measures against the LGBT community making it a crime to display it anywhere, to discuss it, and basically allowing groups of thugs to beat and even kill LGBT people.  This comes as Sochi, Russia is preparing to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.  The Nigerian parliament also passed a law banning same-sex marriage.  But despite these set-backs, the year saw progress.  France, England and Wales, Uruguay, and New Zealand all approved same-sex marriage.  This bring the total number of nations that recognize same-sex marriage to 16.  Two nations we should be watching in 2014 are Mexico and Ireland.  Various parts of Mexico have been approving same-sex marriage.  Will it continue piece by piece (as is being done in the US) or will it go national?  And in Ireland, the people will be voting on a referendum on whether to approve of same-sex marriage or not.

Washington Post - ABC Poll

Washington Post – ABC Poll

So what should we expect in the coming year here in the US?  According to a Quinnipiac poll in September 56% of adults (57% of registered voters) approve of same-sex marriage while 36% disapprove.  Support for gay marriage has remained roughly constant through the year while those opposed have dropped slightly.  Even with these numbers, the push for equality might seem to slow down a bit especially after the speed of progress during the last two years.  Why is this?  So far, the movement has been getting same-sex marriage approved in various states that had no constitutional bans (the exception being Maine which overturned theirs in 2012).  So either courts are going to have to throw out the state bans and rule them unconstitutional or the voters are going to have to overturn them in an election.  As stated earlier, New Mexico has neither a ban in place or any laws supporting same-sex marriage.  Other states to be watching are going to include Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and even Virginia, and Arizona.  In each of those states, recent polls show a majority of that state’s population support same-sex marriage.  Most of these states have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage which will have to be overturned in either way mentioned above.  Only Pennsylvania does not have such a ban.  It only has a state statute which can be dealt with by the legislature.  In Oregon, there is already a movement underway to overturn its constitutional ban.  It will be interesting to see if they push for it in the 2014 midterms or wait for the 2016 presidential election.

According to Pew Research, 72% of those asked (proponents and opponents) say that same-sex marriage is inevitable.  This is up from 59% in 2004.  Even the southern state of South Carolina is starting to show some movement on this issue.  In a Winthrop University Poll, 52% state that they do not approve of same-sex marriage.  This may not seem very surprising, but the state did approve of a constitutional ban in 2006 with 78% of the vote.  Mitt Romney won the state in 2012 with 55% of the vote.  It has a Republican governor, two Republican Senators, a Republican-controlled legislature, and 6 out of 7 of its US Representatives are Republican, as well.  The state is solidly red, but yet attitudes are changing to a slight degree.  The possible cause of this is that, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, a majority of Republicans aged 18-49 do approve of same-sex marriage.  Even US Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have stated they support same-sex marriage, and several more Republican Senators just voted in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

The progress of gay rights in 2013 has been remarkable.  There is still plenty of work to be done though.  The next couple of years (2014-2016) should still see great progress being made.

Progress Toward Equality

The Favorable Winds of Pride

I’ve spent most of the morning watching the House of Lords in Great Britain debate same-sex marriage.  The legislation has already passed the House of Commons and is now awaiting approval from the upper chamber.  Today was only the second reading and debate on a proposed amendment.  And just last week, I watched as the Illinois House of Representatives decided not to vote on same-sex marriage, though the deadline for the bill was extended through the summer so it could be taken up if they were called back to deal with other pressing issues.

Both of these debates are on the heels of progress that has been made here in the US and in countries around the world.  Just this year, in the United States, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Minnesota have approved same-sex marriage.  Minnesota had just voted down a constitutional amendment in the November elections banning same-sex marriage.  In all 12 states and DC allow same-sex marriages.  As for internationally, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, and France have approved same-sex marriage within the year.  In all, thirteen countries have allow same-sex marriage with New Zealand and Urugauy to begin in August.

Pride PostageDespite opposition, the proverbial wind seems to be at the back of progressives and those in favor of equality.  According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted between May 1 – 5, 55% of Americans support same-sex marriage.  This goes with an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll done in April that showed that 63% of Americans are in favor of the federal government recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal.  A Gallup poll posted on May 13, showed that same-sex marriage had an approval rating of 53%.  Conservative columnist George Will once stated on This Week with George Stephanopoulos that opposition to gay marriage is literally dying off, and he is essentially correct with that statement.  Polls continually show that the greatest opposition for same-sex marriage comes from those that are older than 65.  Only 44% support same-sex marriage among that demographic.  Those that are 18-29 years old, support same-sex marriage 81%.  And as the older generation continues to die off and with the influx of the younger generation, we are already seeing a dramatic shift in this discussion.

Even the political divide is changing.  It was the Labour Party that brought about civil unions for same-sex couples in Great Britain, but yet it’s the Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, that is supporting same-sex marriage.  In the US, the needle is gradually starting to move.  First it was only the most liberal of politicians that supported civil unions and then same-sex marriage, but time would tick by and even the moderate liberals (Democrats) would come to show their support.  Independents jumped on board.  It was the conservative side (Republicans) that are the hold-out as they have been baiting the voters that are against equal rights.  But even that needle position has started to shift in our favor.  First it was just the moderate conservatives that either hold elected office in predominantly liberal states or those that are no longer in office.  Then, just this year, two sitting Republican Senators (both moderates) came forward to support same-sex marriage.  They are Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).  Regardless of how they came to our side, we should be grateful to have a voice in our support that was once against us.  It gives us that small breach in the wall of opposition that we have needed.  With their help, we can now focus on other moderates to get them to come over our to our side… especially if they are from states that have approved same-sex marriage already or at least lean more liberal.

We have begun what is essentially referred to as Pride Month here in the US.  And this year, we have even more to be grateful for and to have pride in.  Through living our lives, telling our stories, and continuing the drumbeat for equality, we are making progress toward equality.  Even with set-backs, we are continuing to push the conversation forward.  We will continue to face opposition, bullying, false attacks, and more.  But we will rise above such people and such offenses .  We will continue to educate by just being ourselves and eradicating the stereotypes that still prevail.  So as we celebrate pride, let us be thankful for all that we have and the progress that has been made, all the work countless people have done, and take a momentary pause in our quest to regroup so we are ready to get back out there and continue on.

The wind has filled our sails and we are being guided by the sun rising higher and higher in the sky.  Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. wrote, “The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”  So today, we will celebrate, and tomorrow, we will continue to move forward.

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