This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Victory Fund International Leadership Conference in Washington, DC, where we discussed a plethora of topics ranging from marketing equality to religion and politics.
I was struck by a repeated theme, religious liberty exemptions, that concerned me greatly.
For those of you who are unaware of what is taking place across the country in conservative controlled states, there is a movement afloat to pass laws with religious liberty exemptions, allowing individuals, groups, and corporations, to legally discriminate against other American citizens based on their closely held religious beliefs.
Faced with the “threat” of same-sex marriage, religious conservatives have rallied around the theme of religious liberty exemptions; mainly they seek exemptions from “facilitating” same-sex marriage. This would include the right to discriminate in employment, housing, spousal benefits, such as health insurance, and public accommodations. So a hotel owner can legally refuse service to a married same-sex couple.
But religious liberty exemptions are a slippery slope. What about the doctor, dentist, or nurse who refuses to treat an HIV or AIDS patient because they are gay? What about the restaurant owner, Christian, Jewish or Muslim, who refuse service to members of the LGBTQ community. What about the property owner being able to refuse housing to one of our transgender brothers and sisters?
Religious liberty exemptions have the potential of undoing everything we have achieved in our movement for equality and is clearly our new battle front.
These exemptions are another way of going around to state’s rights issue and taking LGBTQ people back to second class status. It is simply a means to help us go backwards as individuals and a community.
This week a bill passed in the Michigan House granting exemptions to doctors and EMTs to refuse to give lifesaving assistance to a LGBTQ person, because of their religious beliefs. The Republican-led House has approved the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which essentially states that people do not have to perform an act that would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.
As per a speaker at the conference currently they would say that 95% of discrimination of LGBTQ people comes from religious people or doctrines. These are the same people who seek the legal right to continue to discriminate.
But why should I care? Because when one of us is denied housing we are all denied housing. When one of us is refused service we are all refused service. Yes, we can walk and talk with the power of our dollars, but the truth is our community is filled with people who do not have the luxury to speak with their dollars. First comes the legal discrimination against the married same-sex couples, then on to the single LGBTQ people.
What if my religion believed in white supremacy? Would the next up for legal discrimination be our brothers and sisters of color?
Religious liberty exemptions laws are a slippery slope and one needs to ask where does it reasonably end? The religious right and those elected officials who kowtow to them will do all they can to stop the facilitation of same-sex marriage and will use every opportunity they can to set back any progress we have achieved over the last 49 years.