LGBT rights commentators and groups are growing increasingly concerned with a number of bills being filed at the state and federal level that seek to allow discrimination against LGBT people on grounds of religious belief.
A bill filed in the U.S. House that would give special protection to religious institutions and groups to apparently protect them so that the federal government could never remove their tax exempt status on grounds that they have discriminated against gay people, has received significant attention for the worrying precedent it would set should it become law.
Drafted by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), the bill is supposed to be an answer to the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision striking down DOMA Section 3 as unconstitutional and therein removing the last barrier to federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Rep. Labrador is quoted as saying the bill is a “narrowly-tailored piece of legislation” that he designed to fulfill “an immediate need, which is the protection of religious institutions and churches, so that they can continue practicing their religion as they see fit.”
That last comment, “so that they can continue practicing their religion as they see fit,” betrays that this is anything but a “narrowly-tailored piece of legislation.” In fact, the bill appears so broad that it would potentially allow federal workers to refuse services and expertise to married same-sex couples or couples looking to get married, all based on their own religious beliefs.
Labrador, as evidence the bill is needed, points to recent California legislation (State Senate Bill 323) that would have added “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of classes of people that groups cannot discriminate against without having their state tax exemptions withdrawn.
The bill, for instance, would have denied the Boy Scouts of America tax exempt status if it continues to discriminate against gay and trans scouts. While a policy change this year allows gay scouts to remain in the youth group, it does so on a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” basis, meanwhile gay scout leaders will still be kicked out if they disclose their sexuality.
The bill was shelved this month in the waning days of the session but it could still be taken up again in the next legislative session.
The legislation was heavily opposed by religious conservatives who said that amounts to an attack on their religious beliefs. Of course, this is nonsense. The bill in no way attacks religious belief. It would simply mean that in order to get special state tax exemptions, groups would have to comply with nondiscrimination standards that are present in the state’s other laws. That this is not already the case is what should really be cause for concern.
Labrador’s federal bill has been the source of much ire from the LGBT community, with Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson saying: “This sweeping Trojan Horse proposal would swallow civil rights laws and subvert constitutional protections, and is a dangerous ‘solution’ to a non-problem.”
Wolfson goes on to warn that this bill seeks what amounts to a license to discriminate in the public sphere.
Annoyingly, Labrador is claiming that the “Marriage and Religious Freedom Act,” as it is so called, is a “bipartisan” effort because he has managed to round up two Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) and Dan Lipinski (D-Ind.), to join him as lead sponsors of the bill. There are about 60 other co-sponsors, but as the above are the only Democratic Reps signing on to this effort, it is by no means legislation with true bipartisan support.
To be clear, Labrador has little chance of getting his bill through Congress despite the recent IRS controversy that could have bolstered the effort. This, though, seems another routine attack by Tea Party-aligned lawmakers to carve out special exemptions, much like their repeated attempts to prevent same-sex marriages being conducted on military bases and seeking special protections for anti-gay military chaplains.
However, what this effort shows is a distinctly worrying trend that at state level may see more success.
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