By Grant Beck, ERC Communications Officer
Despite the tremendous momentum of marriage equality throughout 2014, the new year presents a whole new set of challenges for the LGBT community. Chief among these challenges is the repeated attempts of state legislators to pass “right to discriminate” bills.
Several state legislatures have considered bills that would allow people and entities the ability to discriminate under the guise of religious freedom. In one headline-grabbing instance earlier this year, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill, only at the urging of advocacy groups and Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake, which would have allowed business owners the right to refuse service to certain customers based on religious convictions.
Michigan and Indiana are the latest states attempting to such legislation. Michigan’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” passed the Republican-controlled House in early December, and is now up for consideration in the state Senate. The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Jase Bolger, would allow “individuals or businesses seek exemptions to government regulations they feel substantially burden their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Indiana’s legislation is nearly identical, with Republican state Sen. Scott Schneider stating that the goal of the legislation is to strengthen the “religious liberty framework” of the state.
Proponents of this type of legislation claim that the purpose is not to discriminate against individuals or communities, but rather to ensure that the religious freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution are not impeded upon by anti-discrimination legislation. The problem with this argument is that legislation of this kind seems to do nothing else but grant business and individuals the right to discriminate.
Giving businesses, organizations and individuals the power to refuse business or public services based on the sexual orientation or gender identity of individual consumers doesn’t bolster religious freedoms for anyone. Allowing LGBT individuals to the right to live, work and shop free of discrimination does nothing to impede in the constitutional right of every American to freely practice a religion of their choosing, but this new legislation completely tramples on the civil rights and civil liberties of LGBT individuals. Aside from being an egregious violation of civil rights, it eerily recalls the days of segregation in this county, when signs blaring “No Coloreds” and “Whites Only” casually adorned storefronts.
Those who support “right to discriminate” legislation do so not to gain further freedoms and liberties, but rather to systematically strip the rights of LGBT individuals. There is no “freedom” in these bills, just a suppression of rights against communities and individuals under the guise of religious liberty.