Of late, many people have been touting the phrase “religious freedom” or “religious liberty” in the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling which affirmed a Constitutional right to nationwide marriage equality. Love Wins, right? Well, not completely and here’s why….
Despite the historic ruling, there are many issues for which the LGBT community must still fight. We face discrimination and unfair treatment regarding housing, employment, adoption and equal access to public accommodations, just to name a few. Because the constitutionality of discrimination has been decided for same-sex marriage, one would think all the other rights would fall into place. Enter the “religious fanatic.” I use the term “fanatic” because the definition fits so perfectly. Webster’s defines it as “a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal, especially for an extreme religious or political cause.”
Let’s take the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to sign same-sex marriage certificates under the guise of religious freedom. She stated, “To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision.” Forgetting the hypocrisy of her views, this would almost seem reasonable, except for the fact that she is a government employee. As a sworn elected official of the State of Kentucky, she has promised, by her oath on the Bible, to uphold the laws of the State of Kentucky and the United States Constitution.The first line in the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This is commonly referred to as the establishment clause, which grants the idea of the separation of Church and State. OK folks, get ready, you can’t govern using your religious doctrine. It’s in the Constitution! Even if you are the majority, you just can’t pick and choose which laws you will abide by.
What about civilians? Don’t they have a right to practice their religion and make choices regarding situations that are against there beliefs? Yes and not really. The reason goes back to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce. So everyone knows, it is against the law to deny service to an African American or a person of Jewish heritage based off their race and religion. However, sexual orientation is not included here. Some cities have adopted non-discrimination policies against the LGBT community. Unfortunately, most states do not have such protections. As a practical result, it is perfectly legal to discriminate, refuse service, fire, even harass, solely based on a person’s sexual orientation.
On the other hand, the military has already added sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy, a fact that displeases many on the far right. Politicians continue to try and weaken those protections by adding “conscience clauses” to the military spending bills. These clauses could possibly allow some to discriminate, harass, and intimidate other service members who are LGBT. Mike Huckabee, a former Governor of Arkansas, has declared, “The military is not a social experiment.” I would agree that it is not a social experiment, but it is microcosmic society representative of our culture. It encapsulates the best of what we are, while exposing serious trends and attitudes from which we need to learn and change. By integrating African Americans into the military, long before the Civil Rights Act was passed, the military served as a model of an equal society. Women have made great strides towards equality in duty assignments and promotions. Gays and lesbians are serving with honor and distinction, and transgender individuals will also soon hopefully be able to serve openly.
We cannot go backwards. So-called “religious freedom” cannot justify discrimination or harassment against LGBT people. Such nonsense has nothing to do with the right to practice one’s religion. We must learn to live and respect our differences. Until then, we must be vigilant.
Jim Farmer, from Newport News, VA, is a proud military spouse. He has been a gay rights activist since his teenage years. This matured into engaging in political, economic, cultural and religious advocacy for the LGBT community.