On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the legalization of same-sex marriage. As gay marriage proponents celebrated nationwide, there was no shortage of those vehemently opposed to the ruling. It was only a matter of time until they came up with methods of skirting the ruling.
This opposition has recently taken the form of the First Amendment Defense Act. Cosponsored by Representative Raúl Labrador (R-ID) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), the bill is intended to protect those who act in accordance with a certain religious or moral belief from discrimination by the government. According to the language in the bill, the beliefs that are to be protected are that “(1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.” This means that the federal government cannot, for example, take away a nonprofit’s tax exemption status or break a contract with a business if they refuse employment to someone involved in a same-sex marriage because it goes against their religious beliefs.
This is a clear attempt to undermine the Supreme Court ruling. It enables almost any individual or company, even ones that are not directly linked to a church, to discriminate against people in the LGBTQ community who so recently won their right to marry. As openly gay Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) noted “[T]his bill goes far beyond simply places of worship, extending to businesses and nonprofits, for example…The bill even contains a clause stating that it must be construed as broadly as possible by the courts and could be read to permit all businesses to use their views on marriage as justification to discriminate against LGBT Americans.”
As if continued discrimination against the very people who have fought for so long to earn the basic right to marry isn’t bad enough, the bill also enables discrimination against another segment of the population— single mothers. Remember the part in the bill that says “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage”? Well you can bet that will be used to justify firing women who get pregnant out of wedlock.
Senator Lee confirmed these suspicions in an interview with NPR when he said, “There are colleges and universities that have a religious belief that sexual relations are to be reserved for marriage and that, for religious reasons, recognize a marriage as an institution between a man and between a woman. Those colleges and universities have the right to make that decision on their own.”
It’s no secret that Christian schools have been discriminating against single mothers for a long time. The key difference here is that this bill goes well beyond protecting simply religious institutions and instead allows nearly any person or any business to discriminate against someone simply because they do not hold the same beliefs about marriage. As Polis mentioned, the language is so broad that almost anyone can claim protection from persecution for their discrimination.
Now let’s talk about the title of this bill. The “First Amendment Defense Act” sounds innocent enough. Who could possibly be opposed to something that protects our constitutional rights? This is an age old trick that politicians love to pull. They name a bill something that includes “Defense” or “Freedom” or something similar in order to convey that it is a well-intentioned effort to protect Americans. What they don’t mention are the Americans whose rights are not being defended, the Americans whose freedoms are being infringed upon because of the bill. This may be called the “First Amendment Defense Act,” but it does not defend the first amendment rights of the LGBTQ community or of single mothers.
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