It’s no big surprise that cries of “Religious Freedom!” are ringing out across the land in the wake of the SCOTUS approval of marriage equality. Neither is it a surprise that House Republicans are running scared and trying to push more anti-LGBTQ legislation before returning home for their August town hall speeches. This time it’s called the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA).
The bill, if passed, would prevent federal government from taking action against charities, churches or private schools for actions these organizations take based on opposition to marriage equality. Such concerns stem from a particular moment in the marriage equality case when Justice Samuel Alito asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli if religious schools would lose nonprofit, tax-exempt status if they opposed marriage equality.
The Solicitor General responded, “It’s certainly going to be an issue. I don’t deny that.” And now, it is an issue. The FADA has 115 GOP co-sponsors as of last week. The bills author, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) may actually be working for the side of true justice, however.
Now that you’ve picked your jaws up off the floor, I’ll explain. Rep. Labrador is a political mad dog. The co-founder of the Freedom Caucus is a continual thorn in the GOP’s side. He is known for frequent criticism of GOP leadership and is not known for making friends in his own party.
In fact, there is serious doubt that his FADA will get the required 218 votes it needs to pass. Labrador isn’t getting much help from across the aisle, not surprisingly. He managed to get one Democrat, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) to sign on as a co-sponsor. Many of his own party, however, see siding with Labrador as political suicide. Thus, his own big mouth and bad reputation may actually be working for the side of justice this time.
One openly-gay representative, Jared Polis (D-CO), suggested (before thoroughly reading the bill) that it may actually get LGBTQ support saying:
“There’s certainly room for clarification that no faith would ever be forced to perform or sanctify marriages that they don’t agree with, just as the Catholic faith isn’t required to marry people who have been divorced. It’s up to every religion who they want to marry and some have been marrying same-sex couples for decades; others will never marry same-sex couples. Many faiths have been sanctifying same-sex marriages for decades, so we know the importance of religious freedom,” he added, “because it would have been terrible for the government to have stopped Reform Judaism or Unitarianism from holding same-sex marriages for the last four decades.”
Then Rep. Polis actually read the FADA. His tune changed quickly as he noted the FADA is far too broad as written. “[T]his bill goes far beyond simply places of worship, extending to businesses and nonprofits, for example. The bill even contains a clause stating that it must be construed as broadly as possible by the courts and could be read to permit all businesses to use their views on marriage as justification to discriminate against LGBT Americans.”
Of course, the bills proponents say it simply preserves the status quo by forbidding the federal government from revoking the tax-exempt status of churches that refuse to recognize marriage equality. Similarly, the government wouldn’t be permitted to deny contracts, grants or licenses to individuals or institutions that won’t honor marriage equality.
Preserving the status quo. Where have we heard such BS before?
- Loving v. Virginia, which allowed interracial marriages
- Dred Scott v. Sanford, which denied citizenship to African Americans
- Plessy v. Ferguson, which permitted state-sponsored segregation
- Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned Plessy
Get the picture? Preservation of the status quo has long been the theme of oppressors who are unwilling to stop being oppressors. We, the people, have evolved (mostly) to recognize that differences, such as skin color, gender and sexual orientation, are not valid bases for discrimination.
Sadly, that evolution hasn’t stopped such discrimination. However, the inexorable march of progress (as evidenced through history) will continue and, like it or not, those who hate will be dragged into the 21st Century. They may kick and scream all the way, but they will come along, nonetheless.
As to the basic issue of whether religious organizations should be free to discriminate against LGBTQ people, my response is a resounding “No!” Religious organizations denying the rights of interracial couples to be married would never be tolerated today. Why then, should discrimination against same-sex couples?