Politicians: Nix Indiana-style laws now

Today the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund is launching a new campaign called “Nix It Now” urging politicians to reject Indiana-style discrimination laws. Please go to our facebook page to share a “Nix it Now” graphic.

Like many of my fellow citizens, I grew up in a religious home. For me it was Catholic in East Los Angeles County. Church is where my family and I learned about justice; justice toward God, toward ourselves and toward others. It is a lesson that has guided me throughout my life and why I can’t be silent as politicians use faith as a weapon against marginalized people; including me, my family and my friends.

{mosads}As a nation that prides itself in the separation of church and state and religious liberty inscribed in the United States Constitution, we find ourselves at a crossroads.

In state capitals across the country, there are attempts to include “RFRAs” or “religious exemptions” or “religious refusals” in new and existing laws, with the intended outcome of denying or stripping away critical protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. Essentially, to treat LGBTQ people differently from other protected classes.

Let’s be crystal clear about this: these extremists want to weaken the Constitutional right of religious liberty to impose their prejudices and beliefs on the rest of us — making a mockery of constitutional rights. Today their targets are LGBTQ people; tomorrow it could be you.

What does this mean for LGBTQ people and in fact everyone? It means a gay janitor or cafeteria worker could be fired from his job at a Catholic hospital; it means a transgender person could be denied basic emergency care because of an EMT’s religious beliefs; or a bisexual woman could be denied the ability to fill a prescription for birth control. A hardworking single lesbian mother of three who pays her rent on time could be evicted by her landlord; a transgender student struggling to come to terms with their gender identity could be denied help by a high school counselor. You could be turned away from a store if you “come across as gay.” If someone doesn’t like you because you are black or a woman or a person that doesn’t conform with someone’s professed beliefs, you could be discriminated against legally. Federal law would ultimately prevail but only after this Indiana law has put delaying obstacles (hiring a lawyer, filing a lawsuit, etc.) in the way of people and their civil rights as contained in the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act and other core federal civil rights legislation.

As we look back at our history, does any of this seem familiar?

There are many reasons for the sudden interest in this tactic from the opponents of equality — not least of which is the extraordinary progress the LGBTQ people have made in securing marriage equality and public support. Another is the Supreme Court’s extremely controversial Hobby Lobby ruling that was a fundamental attack on reproductive justice. This decision provided a legal context for employers imposing their beliefs on their employees: all in the name of religious liberty. This isn’t religious liberty; it’s persecution in the name of religion.

Which brings us back to what is going on in states such as Indiana and being considered in other states such as Arkansas. 

This new Indiana law — that at this moment they are trying to fix because of public outrage — is so broad that almost every type of discrimination could be justified and legal.

The situation in Indiana is personal for me: my mother lives in Indianapolis. She moved there when her job in California transferred her there. She works hard, pays her taxes and contributes to the community she has come to call home over the last several years. But now I’m afraid for her with this new law. Will she be treated fairly and justly? Will her dark hair and features, her looking and being Latina, now be a barrier to her receiving services or shopping or eating at a restaurant? Will someone decline to serve her because of that person’s religious beliefs? And what about me when I visit. I won’t hide my sexual orientation, I left the closet behind a long time ago. Will someone refuse to serve me because I am openly gay or fire her because she’s my mother?

Today’s announcement by Indiana legislators of a “fix” for their controversial law appears to be a step in the right direction. The “fix” aims to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination against them based on religious belief. However, Indiana does not have an employment nondiscrimination law — so LGBTQ people could still be fired for who they are and who they love. 

The truth is the best way to fix these discrimination laws is not to pass them in the first place.

Politicians across the nation have a critical choice to make: do the right thing by rejecting Indiana-style discrimination laws or do the wrong thing by supporting these laws and transform their states into no-go areas for LGBTQ people and our allies. We urge all politicians to nix these discrimination laws and pass strong non-discrimination laws.

Let’s also not forget the millions of people of faith across the nation who believe that discrimination against LGBTQ people is morally wrong. These folks aren’t fooled by the misuse of religion in order to enshrine discrimination in law. They know that these laws aren’t about faith but are part of a long history of strategy to discriminate. They know that shrouding discrimination in vestments of faith doesn’t make it faith; it makes it discrimination.

Do we really want to transform our democracy into a theocracy where the beliefs of the most powerful are forced upon us? No.

Instead we must redouble our efforts to preserve our constitutional rights and to reject cynical politicians who use faith to promote discrimination in their quest for a few extra votes.

Roybal is deputy executive director, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund.


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