Putting “Religious Protection” Bills in Context

Putting “Religious Protection” Bills in Context

In cities and states across the U.S., we’ve seen a recent flood of proposed (and passed) so-called “religious protection” bills. These bills allow business owners to avoid penalties for refusing to provide service that violates their “sincerely-held religious beliefs.” Some of these bills are also described as ways for churches to avoid being forced to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies.

All of these terms—“religious protection” and “sincerely-held religious beliefs”—are code words that sound nice (I talked about such code words in an earlier blog post), but refer to something rather nasty.

These bills sprang up as a direct reaction to same-sex marriage becoming the law of the land, as a way to keep various businesses from having to provide services to gay couples (or flowers for gay weddings).

Various people on all sides of the equation are worried. People who disapprove of homosexuality are worried that they might be forced to somehow take part in providing services for a same-sex wedding. I have friends who are very supportive of gay rights, but who wonder if such “religious” protection might buffer them against having to, for instance, tattoo a swastika on a neo-Nazi. Gay people are rightfully worried, as we are worried about being turned away from everything from restaurants and hotels to doctors’ offices and hospitals.

A Multi-Faceted Issue

This issue has so many aspects to examine and address; I thought I’d take them one at a time so we can come to a better understanding of what these laws do and don’t do, as well as what they resemble in a historical civil rights context.

Churches Are Already Protected

There’s not much more I can say. Churches don’t have to conduct same-sex weddings. They don’t have to conduct any wedding with which they feel uncomfortable. Skeptical? How about if a Christian couple wants to get married in a Jewish temple? The rabbi can turn them away. A Catholic church can choose not to marry a couple where one partner has not converted to Catholicism. A Baptist minister can require that a couple take pre-marital counseling for a specific amount of time before he will agree to marry them. Individual churches already have control over who they will and won’t marry; that already exists and has not changed.

Refusing to Make a Specific Product ≠ Refusing to Serve a Specific Group of People

“I’m a tattoo artist and I’m worried that a white supremacist might sue me for refusing to tattoo a swastika on his scalp.”

“Asking a Christian-owned bakery to sell a cake for a gay wedding is like asking a Jewish deli to sell someone a ham sandwich.”

No. The first is not a concern and the second is not the same. Why? Because no one is being asked to create or sell a product they don’t normally create, carry, or sell. If you’re a tattoo artist and you’re not in the business of creating images of Nazi imagery or burning crosses, you can refuse to do so. You’re not telling your client, “I won’t tattoo you because you’re white/gay/Hispanic/Muslim;” you’re telling them “I do not tattoo swastikas on ANYONE, period.”

As for the bakery/Jewish deli scenario, it’s the same. A kosher Jewish deli doesn’t sell pork products. At all. To anyone. But they’re happy to sell their pastrami and corned beef to everyone who walks through their doors. The same should hold true for all businesses. If you create a wedding cakes for heterosexual weddings and a gay couple comes in and says, “Wow! I love the cake you have in your photo book; this one right here! We’d like to buy this cake for our wedding,” and you refuse to sell them the product you normally carry for sale for everyone else—that’s discrimination.

“But It Violates My Religion!” Has a Nasty History

Let me progress to the next point in my imaginary discussion with the hypothetical Christian bakery owners.

“But doing anything that supports homosexuality or same-sex weddings violates my religious beliefs! *insert appropriate scripture from Leviticus…Deuteronomy, etc.*”

That may be the case. And you might, really, sincerely feel that way. Having been raised as a fundamentalist Christian, I can 100% understand how distressing this must be for you (really, I do).

That doesn’t make it right.

More so, history will prove how wrong you are. You see, arguments just like that were used not too long ago to argue for things like segregation. Actually, after a quick Google, I see that white supremacists are STILL using scriptural arguments against, for instance, interracial marriage. While this is abhorrent if someone believes it privately, it becomes problematic if someone conducts their business with these kinds of beliefs, because now they are affecting, disrespecting—and even possibly harming—other people. Someone who believes that interracial marriage is wrong because of the way they interpret the Bible is a nasty person, but it gets ramped up to a new level when that person owns a flower shop and won’t sell flowers for an interracial couple’s wedding.

Why the Free Market Isn’t the Answer

But we can just leave things alone and let the free market sort things out, right? I mean, if a florist, bakery, or wedding planner states that they won’t serve gay people or same-sex weddings, then gay people won’t patronize them and the community can vote, with their dollars, whether or not they think this is ok.

That seems like a good idea until we put it into another context. Imagine if—in the 50s and 60s—the free market had been allowed to reign to decide whether or not segregation or refusal of service to black people would be tolerated? There would have been entire areas of the country where black people would have been hard-pressed to find a restaurant that would serve them, to find places to shop, to be rented a room at a hotel, or to get an education. I can imagine that there are areas of the country today where similar problems might arise for gay individuals or couples…and not everyone has the choice to simply move somewhere else (nor should they have to).

And what about industries beyond just the wedding/restaurant industry? What about hotels? Doctors offices? Hospitals and ambulance personnel? If a florist can legally tell a lesbian woman, “It violates my religious beliefs to sell you flowers for your wedding,” then should a restaurant be able to turn that woman and her wife away if the owner suspects they are a couple? If the two women drive cross-country late into the night and pull into the first hotel they’ve seen in over an hour, can the hotel owner turn them out because renting a room to a gay couple violates their religious beliefs? What if there is an emergency and one of the women calls an ambulance for her wife? Do we want legal protections for medical personnel who feel that rendering aid to a gay person might violate their religious beliefs?

I know I’m going into a long line of “what ifs,” here, but as a gay person who listens to these “religious protection” debates play out, these are very real concerns. Being turned away from your wedding venue or bakery of choice would be heartbreaking, infuriating and embarrassing, but being turned away from a doctor’s office, denied care or denied entrance to your spouse’s hospital room because any of these things happened to violate someone’s religious beliefs are all terrifying possibilities.

Religious beliefs are subjective. There are no boundaries to what kinds of people or beliefs we are legally protecting with the passage of these laws. In promoting this sort of legislation, we’re not really protecting freedom for all; we’re protecting a mean-spirited (in the least) and dangerous (at worst) mentality that has been used for decades to deny freedom to certain groups.

(Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto.)


Minus Scalia, SCOTUS unanimously steers into progressive waters

The United States Supreme Court just reversed an Alabama Supreme Court decision that had stripped adoptive rights away from a lesbian mom. 

“The decision was unanimous.”
*jaw drop* Wow.

Long story short (and I’m not 100% sure of all the specifics, but here’s your TLDR version):

Lesbian couple lives in Georgia. They have kids and the second mother is granted adoptive rights over the kids, so now you have Birth Mother and Adoptive Mother.

The couple breaks up. Things get nasty and Birth Mother sues in the state of Alabama (where she was living? Where both of them were living at that point? I’m not sure) to strip custody/parental rights from Adoptive Mom.

Alabama is more than happy to agree with her, and their state Supreme Court rules that the state of Georgia had no power to grand adoptive rights to an icky, godless gay parent in the first place. Adoptive mom loses all rights, custody, visitation, etc for the kids she’s helped raise since birth.

Enter the U.S. Supreme Court. They say this is bullshit–UNANIMOUSLY–and restore parental rights to Adoptive Mom.

Unanimously. Holy shit. Do you now how huge that is that the conservative justices voted in favor of this woman’s parental rights? I’ll bet Scalia wouldn’t have. He must be rolling right now…and I don’t mean with laughter. 


The Republican Party’s Instant Karma

The Republican Party is in a full-out, nuclear meltdown. If they let Trump get nominated, he (statistically) loses to either Democratic nominee. If they go over his head to nominate someone else, he runs on a third-party ticket and still costs them the election.

As I watch the Republican Party begin to fracture, I can’t help but walk around humming this song. I’d like to dedicate this to all of the politicians who have spent the last few decades kicking around women, racial and religious minorities, as well as GLBT people, in order to unite their base.

Where Have All the **** Gone?

I needed to quickly check on the lyrics to “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” (don’t ask; it was for a comment to a post by the Bloggess involving tumbleweeds and horny toads—neither of which have anything to do with flowers or where they’ve gone—do you now see why I said don’t ask?)

Long story short (too late!), I did a quick Google search and the first link I clicked on (which took me to Metrolyrics) displayed this:


Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 10.43.33 AM
(Some of the shocking lyrics in question)

Explicit language? Whaaaat?

Pete Seeger: shocking audiences long before Marilyn Manson and Eminem did their thing. 

The Trumpenstein Monster Lives

The Trumpenstein Monster Lives


The monster that the Republican Party has been building for decades—it’s alive and it’s gonna be yuuuuuuge, I tell ya. We won’t call it a Frankenstein monster; let’s call it Trumpenstein.

The Origins of Trumpenstein

Just like the original Frankenstein monster, Trumpenstein was cobbled together from putrid, rotten bits and pieces that the GOP gathered over time. The first piece was acquired back in the 60’s when the Republicans decided that a great way to attract the white, southern, conservative voting demographic away from the Democrats would be the “Southern Strategy,” a plan that invoked a pre-Civil War-era argument for states’ rights. (At the time, “states’ rights” was a not-so-veiled code word for states having the ability to legally discriminate against black Americans.) And thus, the first part of the Trumpenstein monster was placed on the lab table…where it began to fester and grow more powerful.

*Insert evil, foreboding laughter, as well as ominous organ music and a few claps of thunder and some lighting strikes*

Trumpenstein’s Bible

The next important piece was haphazardly stitched into place in the late 80’s, when George H. W. Bush realized that he could use far-right evangelical Christians in his bid for the White House. Having previously railed against people like Pat Robertson (Bush called them “snake handlers and swindlers”), H. W. suddenly recruited Doug Wead to advise him on how to best court the evangelical vote. Wead created a strategy that included a staunch pro-life position and the term “compassionate conservative.” (The first part of this strategy is still going strong, but the second part has been long-abandoned by many of today’s so-called “Christian” conservatives, whose stunning lack of compassion is anything but Christ-like.) 

At this point, the Republican Party was not only blindingly white, but it was proudly wielding a cross. And so the grand experiment continued.

(Ivana and then Marla and then) Melania and Trumpenstein; not Adam and Steve!

Code words are a fantastic way for Republican politicians to say exactly how they feel in an acceptable, “politically correct” sort of way. In the early days of the Bush Jr. presidency, the code word du jour was “activist judges.” Meaning, of course, judges who recognized that refusing legal marriage protection to gay and lesbian couples was unconstitutional. When a Massachusetts judge ruled that same-sex couples who lived in the state should be allowed to legally marry, “activist judges” became the next of many code words the Republican Party used to stir up fear among its voters and unite them against yet another common enemy—the gay!!!

*insert more ominous music—music that is ominous to anti-gay conservative Christians, because gays are icky and terrifying to them, as well as music that is ominous to the rest of us, because it’s scary that anti-gay conservative Christians actually think they should be able to make laws based on their opinion that gays are icky and terrifying. Ominous music for everyone!*

I have to hand it to them; they’ve gotten A LOT of mileage out of this one. Here we are, over ten years after the Massachusetts court decision, and Republicans have shifted through a variety of anti-gay code words; we’ve gone from “activist judges” to revisit one of their greatest hits—“states’ rights.” We’ve talked about “protecting traditional marriage” and are currently concerned with “protecting religious freedom.” I’d actually like to digress for a moment and provide a handy translation guide for those who might be from more progressive countries and are confused by this terminology; here’s what it really means:


“Activist judge”— Any judge who rules in favor of allowing a gay person to secure legal protections for their family, such as the 1,130 federal rights and protections granted by a marriage license, the ability to be the legal parent/guardian of their children, or the right to not be refused service or be physically/verbally abused because of their sexual orientation. A judge that rules against any of these civil rights is simply “upholding the Constitution” or “protecting religious freedom” (a phrase that we’ll get to shortly). 

“Protecting Traditional Marriage”— Strangely, those who speak the loudest about the value of a strong, healthy marriage feel that their marriage may be threatened by other people’s marriages. (It makes no sense to me, either.) Also, despite marriage being a conservative, stabilizing force in our society, these folks would like to limit marriage and exclude same-sex couples from settling down and taking responsibility for one another. Basically, a “traditional marriage” can only be between a man and a woman (ignoring Biblical traditions such as one man and his concubines or one man who trades a herd of livestock for his wife). Any such arrangement between a same-sex couple isn’t a “real” marriage (which, let’s face it, smacks of a childish, spoiled, Veruca Salt-level temper tantrum.)

Veruca Salt Marriage Tantrum

“States’ Rights”— Dating back to the Civil War era, this is a phrase that has historically been used to mean that the majority of people in each state should be able to decide the civil rights of minorities in that state. In the Jim Crow era, it meant that white people in places like Alabama should be able to decide whether or not black people could send their kids to school with white people’s kids, sit anywhere they wanted to on a bus or be forced to drink from specially-marked water fountains (lest “the black” be contagious, I suppose). In recent years, it has come to mean that heterosexual people in each state get to vote on whether or not they would like to let gay people get married, or whether they think it’s ok for business owners to put up “STRAIGHTS ONLY” signs (because historically, behavior like this is generally looked upon with glowing approval, years later).

“Protecting Religious Freedom”— See the latter part of the definition for “activist judge.” In the 60’s, many white so-called Christians argued that it violated Biblical beliefs for black children to intermix with their children at school. Today, a number of so-called Christians argue that it violates their religious beliefs to provide various services to gay and lesbian customers. (Also see the part of the previous definition where we reflect on how this sort of behavior is viewed decades later.)

Ok. Digression complete. Back to the creation of Trumpenstein.

Putred Patchwork

There were bits and pieces of Trumpenstein shoved into place in between the events I’m listing here, of course. There was the raging anti-Muslim sentiment that started in this country after 9/11, causing Muslims who had lived in the U.S. for their entire lives to fear for their safety. Hated of Muslims gave way to hatred of Mexicans, which gave way to hatred of gays, and then more hatred of Mexicans, which finally evened out into a general hatred of all three groups. There was the pro-Second Amendment furor in which the NRA (and the politicians riding around in their pocket) completely abandoned responsible gun owners in an attempt to frighten voters into believing that they were under imminent threat and should be able to carry any sort of weapon into wherever they’d like to carry it—and who needs any background checks or training? We don’t need no stinking classes!

*fires pistols into the air, Yosemite Sam-style*

Let There Be Palin

I’d like to think, however, that the last piece of the Trumpenstein monster was put into place when the Republican Party embraced Sarah Palin. Yes—the former Alaska governor with her word salad rantings against the particular class of people who try to co-opt our country within and without the dangerous world in which we now exist but through which we can thank God for all of the Americas for which we have been given and also therefore for which we should shy away from those who would take our money and our hearts and build more walls, God bless America!

The Palin era of presidential campaigning brought out a frightening celebration of anti-intellectualism. Palin herself was definitely not a cerebral type, unable to blurt out anything except, “Uh, all of ‘em” when asked by Katie Couric what newspapers she reads. Palin then went on the attack against “gotcha journalism” (journalism in which the reporter asks real questions about issues that voters would like to know about).

She also openly ridiculed “intellectual elites.” What does that mean, exactly? People who read books with, you know, words? Perhaps this refers to people who use facts to develop their beliefs, rather than just shouting something out and then crossing one’s arms and standing firm with a “Well, I have a right to my opinion!”

In the post-Palin era, this has become the conservative, Tea Party Republican refrain: “I have a right to my opinion”—no matter how false, ludicrous, hostile, or vile that “opinion” is. (For those who are interested in reading more about this phenomenon, I’ll point you to this excellent Houston Press article.)


With this final piece in place, Trumpenstein was complete. Its piggish eyes opened and its loud, boorish voice was ready to shout down the entire world with its “opinions.” It staggered around, reciting all the conservative talking points (“Keep out the Mexicans Protect Christians Overturn the marriage ruling Overturn Obamacare”).

But much to the horror of the Republican establishment (and amidst the cheers of the Tea Party base the GOP had so recently courted), Trumpenstein had a few tricks up its sleeve: it also spouted sexist things about women, said that it would block all Muslims from entering the country and register the ones who already live here, and Trumpenstein seemed rather wishy-washy in its feelings about white supremacist groups.

Now, the question is this: will the GOP protect or discard their monstrous creation?

Trumpenstein Its Alive