The current anti-LGBTQ legislation is taking “religious freedom laws” to a whole new level. Most famously exercised in our very own Vice President’s home state of Indiana, these laws make it so that businesses can discriminate against LGBTQ people if their excuse is religious in nature. This is the same excuse Kim Davis gave when she refused to sign a marriage certificate for a same-sex couple, and it’s the same one that a bakery used to turn away a wedding cake order in Colorado.
These kinds of instances aren’t just limited to high-profile Supreme Court cases. Here’s a complete breakdown of what’ going on now with anti-LGBTQ religious freedom laws across the country, on the state and federal level:
Anti-LGBTQ policy at the federal level, courtesy of the Religious Right
Unfortunately, the United States government has been infiltrated by religious extremists, otherwise known as the Religious Right. Because Trump is a lapdog of the Religious Right, he’s begun to pursue Religious Freedom legislation at a federal level.
For weeks, rumors had been circulating that Trump planned to sign an Executive Order that would make it legal on a federal level for individuals, schools, and businesses to make decisions based on religious beliefs. Such a law would have massive implications for anti-LGBTQ discrimination, as it would allow schools and businesses to deny services by claiming it was against their religion and it would allow individuals working pretty much anywhere to individually refuse to serve LGBTQ people. Fortunately, the executive order Trump ended up signing was pretty benign.
The Executive Order did, however, lessen restrictions imposed by the Johnson Amendment, which discourages clergy from being political from the pulpit. Trump even encouraged pastors to speak out on controversial issues and fight for social change based on their religious beliefs. This Executive Order makes it clear that Trump doesn’t intend to keep religion out of his politics.
Religious freedom laws across the country now
Tennessee: The Governor of Tennessee signed a law earlier this month that would define marriage in the state of Tennessee as a union between a man and a woman. The bill that this was attached to was a bill that would define administrative terms for the state’s municipal codes. The bill was not changing the state’s marriage code, it was actually defining the word marriage. Since the bill was not actually defining marriage as a legal entity, but the actual word marriage for the purpose of Tennessee Code, the governor said that it wasn’t discriminatory or in conflict with the SCOTUS decision that made gay marriage legal.
Of course, in practice, this could mean that people who want to deny LGBTQ couples a marriage license could refer to the definition of marriage provided by the new law. The law essentially provides a backdoor way to make gay marriage illegal in the state of Tennessee. The governor signed the bill into law even though multiple pro-LGBTQ organizations urged him to veto.
Alabama: Earlier this month, the Governor of Alabama signed a law called the “Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act.” Unfortunately, this law isn’t actually inclusive at all. In fact, it makes it legal for child welfare agencies in the state of Alabama to deny LGBTQ individuals or couples the right to adopt or have foster children. The law allows an individual child welfare worker who has an objection to a prospective adoptive or foster parent based on their religious beliefs, to ignore the best interests of the child and refuse placement with that family.
Texas: Texas is also working on legislation that would allow child welfare workers to refuse to place children with families to whom they object for religious reasons. HB 3859 has already passed the Texas House and is on its way to the Senate. Texas representatives insist that the bill is not discriminatory because it doesn’t favor any one set of religious beliefs. It would allow anyone, of any religion, to refuse placement for any religious reason. This logic ignores the fact that Christianity is by far the dominant religion in Texas and that the people leveraging this law would most likely be refusing placement based on fundamentalist Christian beliefs.
Missouri: Missouri isn’t so much working on bills that discriminate against LGBTQ individuals as they are refusing to pass bills that would make such discrimination illegal. In Missouri, sexual orientation isn’t a protected class in their state level anti-discrimination laws. This means that it’s technically still legal to fire someone for being LGBTQ or to refuse to house to someone who’s LGBTQ. The Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, which has been introduced in the legislature, would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Opponents in the legislatures are saying that signing this law would infringe on people’s religious freedom. Making it illegal for them to discriminate would make it harder for them to live their religious beliefs. So, for now, Missouri refuses to pass anti-discrimination legislation lest it offends religious people.
Florida: Last week, the Florida House passed a bill called the “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act.” This bill requires schools to allow religious speech at school-sponsored events. It also requires the school to protect such speech. The bill does not address hate speech. The fear is that the bill would allow students and faculty to voice their anti-LGBTQ opinions at school events and they would be protected as long as they claim it’s in line with their religious beliefs, making it protected speech.
Check out The Tempest’s ongoing coverage of LGBTQ rights.