A license to discriminate

Victoria Zawitkowski
Staff Columnist

There has been quite an uproar about the religious liberty bill passed in Indiana this past week, but this is nothing new. Many people don’t realize just how many other states have similar legislation already solidified in their codes or how many bills claiming religious liberty as an excuse for discrimination are proposed during each general assembly session.

Religious freedom has frequently been used as a defense for discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

Virginia sees bills like this crop up in each of its own legislative sessions.

In Virginia’s 2015 General Assembly session, Del. Bob Marshall (R-Manassas) introduced House Bill 1414. It stated that a person would not be required to “perform, assist, consent to, or participate in any action” as a condition of “obtaining or renewing a government-issued license, registration, or certificate” if such actions would “violate the religious or moral convictions of such person.”

The language of this bill creates a license to discriminate. Lawyers could put signs in their windows saying they don’t handle gay divorces. Bakeries could put up signs saying they won’t make wedding cakes for an LGBTQ ceremony. We would be drawing lines through our state, separating the LGBTQ friendly businesses from those that are not. Thankfully, Marshall’s bill did not pass, but it is not the first or last attempt at this kind of discrimination.

Indiana is just the latest state to attempt conscience-clause legislation. Arizona attempted to pass a bill almost identical to Indiana’s last year, but with the threat of losing the NFL Super Bowl’s presence (and $480 million worth of business), Gov. Jan Brewer caved. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence recently announced he would ask legislators to submit a clarification to the bill. But he only did this after several TV appearances where he defended the bill, denying it had anything to do with discrimination.

Nevertheless, Arizona and Indiana are two of 33 states in the U.S. that have no protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In 29 states it is technically legal for a storeowner to deny service to a gay person over his or her sexual orientation. In many states, you can also still be fired for being gay. Religious freedom bills are piling on to an already existing problem; the lack of overall protection for the LGBTQ community.

The other very important aspect of legislation like that found in Virginia, Arizona or Indiana, is that the broad language of these bills affects not only the gay and lesbian population, but anyone who could be deemed in violation of someone’s religious beliefs. This could extend to anyone of a different religious faith, unwed mothers, divorcees and more.

Lawmakers have a responsibility to their constituents. This conscience-clause, religious-liberty or right to refusal legislation is purposefully putting those of a certain religious faith above others. That is not creating a fair and equal environment for citizens of the U.S. We are allowing the religious right to have a codified excuse for discriminating against others. If we allow these types of bills to get through the legislative process, we are opening up a huge can of worms for our state. No one should be allowed to use a state or federal law to defend their racism, sexism or overall bigotry toward another human being.

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