Feature image via Garsya/Shutterstock
Seven days. That’s how long it took a Missouri lawmaker to propose 2015’s first anti-LGBT bill.
On January 7, Missouri State Rep. Elijah Haahr introduced HB 104, lovingly titled the “Student Freedom of Association Act” in an attempt to mask its true intention: To allow student groups at public universities to deny access to LGBT students based on the group’s religious beliefs. Haahr’s bill is a response to last year’s weird panic over the pretty standard set of rules regarding student groups, which basically say that any group that wants to be recognized and receive funding or meeting space must be open to all students on campus. This new bill aims to solve that “problem” that — let’s be honest — probably doesn’t exist, by demanding religious groups get access to the same resources as all other student groups, even if they violate the conditions of receiving those resources.
“Religious freedom” seems to be discriminatory groups’ flavor-of-the-month excuse for these measures, which are popping up at both state and local levels throughout the country. Some towns are even rolling back previously approved LGBT protections, as Starkville, Mississippi, did in a closed-door meeting earlier this month.
A recently passed anti-discrimination ordinance in Plano, Texas, has inspired lawmakers in that state to take their objections to a higher level. They’ve begun organizing a measure that would prevent municipalities from formalizing any protections to a group not protected by the state government. So, unless the Texas legislature says LGBT people are a protected minority, no local government would be allowed to include them in anti-discrimination measures. The passing of that bill would settle the matter of Houston’s currently disputed ordinance, which was challenged by a petition whose suspiciously similar signatures have come under harsh scrutiny.
All of these measures are part of a statewide attempt to curtail LGBT rights through any means necessary.
Also in the Texas legislature, Rep. Cecil Bell Jr. has introduced a bill that would bar county clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the event that an ongoing federal case about the state’s marriage ban rules in favor of same-sex marriage advocates.
All of these measures are part of a statewide attempt to curtail LGBT rights through any means necessary, using whatever loopholes politicians can find. Lawmakers in other states, however, are looking for blanket measures that would keep them from having to nitpick at civil liberties.
Take Virginia, for example, where last week notorious anti-gay legislator Del. Bob Marshall introduced that state’s — and possibly the nation’s — most extreme “right to discriminate” bill to date. His HB 1414 creates a “conscience clause” that bars any organization that requires a “license, registration, or certificate” — so, literally any public or private enterprise — from requiring its workers to do anything that would “violate the religious or moral conviction with respect to same-sex ‘marriage’ or homosexual behavior.” If you put aside how horrific his proposal is, Marshall’s clever phrasing is almost impressive: It’s a blatant attempt to attack the state’s LGBT population at every level, by giving any person who finds someone’s sexuality offensive the ability to simply cry “morality!” and stop doing their job without a single consequence.
That’s the hope for proponents of laws modeled on the federal “Religious Freedom and Restoration Act” that passed under President Bill Clinton but was ruled to not apply to states in 1997. Michigan’s attempt to pass an RFRA floundered in December, but there’s already talk of reviving the effort this year, and those watching anti-LGBT groups across the nation suspect that’s where their efforts will fall throughout 2015. If you’re watching the news in your state, keep an ear out for talk of “sincerely held religious beliefs” and “substantially burdened” religious exercise. If you hear those phrases flying around, it’s likely your state is considering a “religious freedom” bill targeted at protecting anti-LGBT beliefs.
If you’re watching the news in your state, keep an ear out for talk of “sincerely held religious beliefs” and “substantially burdened” religious exercise.
Lastly, because let’s not forget trans people can be targeted outright without hiding behind religious convictions, a state senator in Kentucky has proposed a bill that would give students the right to sue for $2,500 if they encounter a trans person using the “wrong” restroom, locker room or shower at school. Sen. C.B. Embry Jr.‘s “Kentucky Student Privacy Act” relies heavily on that “biological sex” idea that we know is never so cut-and-dry as the term might suggest. It’s unclear if Embry’s bill will gain the necessary support to pass, but he’s doing everything he can to frame it as an “emergency” measure, so we should at least see some result soon.
We’re only one month into 2015, but legislators across the country are making it clear that LGBT rights are on trial this year. Whether they’re claiming religious freedom or personal safety, conservatives are being ruthless in their attempts to carve out legal space for discrimination. And if we don’t call them out at every opportunity, we risk losing even the moderate rights LGBT people have secured through decades of advocacy.