WASHINGTON, April 10, 2016 — Mississippi, with a new law, is now one of twenty-seven U.S. states proclaiming that LGBT people are inferior to others, not as valuable to society, and deserving of lesser treatment and fewer rights, indicating that indignities to these human beings are acceptable.
The history of the world is often marked by religious wars. Now, here in the presumably civilized United States of America, a non-killing war is taking place under the guise of religion. Religious bigots are the antagonists in this war, and the rest of the fair-minded world is the opposition.
Witch hunts then and now
The cause of this war is human sexuality, marking gay, lesbian and transgender human beings with bulls-eyes on their backs. The weapons of choice are highly discriminatory laws, all justified in one way or another by religion. Aside from their sheer outrageousness, the laws that underpin this shameful movement are simply unconstitutional.
Such morally indefensible laws as the recent legislation in Mississippi arise from fear. The question begs, what are these people afraid of? That their children might grow up gay, or that there might be a locker room or restroom glance at something different?
By analogy, there were no real witches during any of their religiously inspired persecution both in Europe and in this country. America went through a similar hysterical period of witch-hunting in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. The “witch trials” that were subsequently conducted concluded with the colonial government there putting twenty people to death for practicing witchcraft.
We look back today and shake our heads wondering how the citizens of Salem could ever held held such lunatic beliefs. Despite the fears, supposed witches did not harm anyone there with spells or incantations.
Slavery and its long aftermath, ranging from the post-Reconstruction era to the height of this country’s denial of civil rights to blacks in the 1950s and 1960s also proved to be a highly embarrassing and indeed brutal period in our country’s history. While racial discrimination and the de facto denial of civil rights still exists in many forms, at least our society has now advanced to the point where few Americans would believe that black human beings are inferior, nor would they claim they are suffering by exposure to others that are not their race.
Women once were not permitted to vote in this country because they were presumed to be irrational and inferior, or so it was claimed. Nothing, obviously, could be farther from the truth. The real truth, in fact, was that men feared women.
Today’s fear of gays and lesbians mirrors our country’s darkest hours by encouraging laws and actions not only similar to the indignities perpetrated upon those unfortunate residents of colonial Salem accused of flying around on broomsticks, but also through more recent history upon blacks and women as well.
Employment discrimination, housing and public accommodation discrimination, “guiding, instructing or raising” foster children in accordance with religious beliefs, refusing to give counseling and provide fertility services, establishing sex-specific dress codes and having sex-segregated restrooms and other facilities top the list of today’s inexplicable bigotry.
Today’s discriminatory religious exemption laws
Anti-LGBT religious exemption laws fall into several categories:
Religious Freedom Restoration Acts – These laws claim that non-discrimination policies substantially burden religious beliefs.
Marriage-related Religious Exemption Laws – Some of these laws apply to religious organizations; others only to commercial entities or government officials.
First Amendment Defense Acts — This ridiculous justification for anti-discrimination laws allows virtually anyone to discriminate based on religious or moral beliefs. Do First Amendment rights allow taxpayer-financed discrimination that could include denying social services such as homeless shelters and drug treatment programs to same-sex couples and their families and to single mothers?
Government Employees – These laws allow magistrates, judges and clerks to refuse to perform weddings or issue marriage licenses.
Commercial Wedding Services – These provisions specifically allow businesses in this industry to refuse to provide goods and services related to marriage.
Pastor Protection Acts – Clergy, churches and other religious organizations are specifically identified as being allowed to refuse to perform marriages.
Adoption and Foster Care – Again, taxpayers are funding these agencies that are being allowed to refuse to provide adoption and foster care services, regardless of the best interests of the children in their care.
Access to Health Services – These provisions allow refusal of services, such as a guidance counselor refusing to help a gay teenager.
Here are the states that have enacted various anti-LGBT religious exemption laws, all of which discriminate against human beings in one form or another:
Montana, North Dakota, Michigan, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arizona, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Texas and Florida.
Mississippi has distinguished itself in this regard. It is already dead last by most measures in its economic status. It has the highest rate of unemployment, the lowest Gross Domestic Product per capita, the lowest average money income spent on personal consumption and the lowest average annual wages. This law will cement the state’s status.
Good one-line joke, now that the law has passed: Mississippi calls itself the Hospitality State.
Mississippi lawmakers call their law the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.” One part protects:
“Individuals, religious organizations and certain businesses who have the sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.”
Under this law, anyone with a religious objection can:
Decline to perform marriages; to offer wedding related services; to hire, terminate or discipline anyone whose beliefs or moral convictions are contrary to theirs; to decline to sell or rent housing; to decline medical care or therapy treatment; to determine occupation of restrooms, spas, baths, showers, dressing rooms, locker rooms or other facilities; and more.
Clearly, none of this is legal: Same-sex marriage was specifically sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015. Further, even without that ruling, none of what is discussed above is constitutional.
In 1996, he Supreme Court, in Romer v. Evans, struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment that singled out gay men, lesbians and bisexuals for inferior treatment. The state Amendment that was struck down prohibited any government arm from extending civil rights protections.
Justice Anthony Kennedy explained that Colorado made gay people and bisexuals into a kind of underclass that was not permitted to seek out civil rights protections. He said that they took away from gays, but no others, specific legal protections from injuries and harms caused by discrimination.
Therein lies the problem with ALL these 27 states’ laws. It is well established in our country that laws that single out a certain class of citizens for disfavored legal status or that create general hardships are illegal. Laws that have the effect of denying or making it more difficult for one group of citizens than for all others deny equal protection of the law in the most literal sense.
The 14th Amendment to the Constitution has been called the Equal Protection Clause. It underscored and validated the Civil Rights Act of 1869, which guaranteed that all people would have rights equal to those of all citizens. The Amendment was the basis for the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, in which the Court declared racial segregation to be illegal. The Amendment then became the basis for many other rulings rejecting discrimination against people belonging to various groups.
In Mississippi now, it is okay for almost every imaginable form of discrimination against same-sex couples, people who identify as transgender, or anyone who has had non-marital sex.
Mississippi’s law, despite being camouflaged in the rhetoric of religious liberty and freedom, is about as blatant as it could be in terms of animus toward LGBT individuals. Every anti-LGBT law — every one of them, in all of the 27 states that have them — is both morally and legally indefensible. Are we still living in 1692? Should we still be hunting for witches? Oh my, that lesbian living down the street is going to corrupt my family!
Perhaps the smartest man in the world is Pope Francis. He just said the Church should be inclusive, and he called for priests to welcome single parents, gay people and unmarried straight couples who are living together.
Religious freedom is fine. Discriminating is not religious. Thank you Pope Francis.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website.
His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” can be instantly downloaded, for free, on his website: http://www.samakowlaw.com/book.