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Hobby Lobby decision is a threat to LGBTQ civil rights gains

Tuesday, July 1, 2014
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A demonstrator dressed as the 'Bible' stands outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, June 30, 2014. The Court ruled that  corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women.Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

A demonstrator dressed as the ‘Bible’ stands outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, June 30, 2014. The Court ruled that corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women.

LGBTQ rights, particularly marriage equality, have made incredible advances over the past year. But, like other great human rights struggles, organized opponents are working hard to contain and undermine movement gains.

Many in the LGBTQ community may be unaware of the Religious Right’s strategy to undermine civil rights gains by establishing ever-larger exemptions from state and federal laws. But in a landmark decision focused on employers’ responsibility for contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court has given the Right’s efforts a big boost—with potentially far-reaching implications.

What good is a right if you can’t exercise it?

While they’ll seldom admit it in public, leaders of the Religious Right understand there has been a cultural sea change regarding homosexuality. Marriage equality and workplace non-discrimination are on course to become the law of the land.

Faced with this reality, Religious Right legal groups like the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly known as Alliance Defense Fund) have been working hard on a back-door strategy to limit the reach of court and legislative wins for the LGBTQ community.

Despite existing protections and exemptions for religious institutions, the Religious Right is now seeking to expand the range of institutions and individuals that can claim religious exemptions to laws that protect our constitutional rights.

As a result of this week’s Hobby Lobby ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, a for-profit corporation has, for the first time in U.S. history, been endowed with the right to discriminate on the basis of religious convictions, throwing open the door for an expanded wave of attacks on LGBTQ people, including on marriage equality.

But the Right’s attacks are not just coming via the courts. We are also seeing conservative state legislatures advancing legislation that would carve out exemptions for “sincerely held religious beliefs.” These exemptions could be used to legalize, and institutionalize, discrimination against both LGBTQ employees and consumers.

Both the Hobby Lobby decision and legislation proposed in a number of states (passed in Mississippi) argue that “sincerely held religious belief” should trump state and federal laws—including long-established civil rights laws.

Earlier this year, the national LGBTQ community erupted in protest (rightly so) when conservative legislators in Arizona passed SB 1062, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which would have allowed private business owners to refuse services to LGBTQ customers on the basis of the owners’ religious beliefs.

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