Yesterday, the Georgia Senate approved a “religious freedom” bill which, if signed into law, would prohibit the state from infringing on personal religious beliefs — effectively legalizing discrimination against gay and transgender individuals. The bill, however, is but one of many “religious freedom” bills being introduced by Republican lawmakers across the country in anticipation of a Supreme Court ruling that would legalize same-sex marriages.
“Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value that we cherish, and work hard to defend. However, as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people gain greater equality under the law, we are seeing a troubling push to allow anyone (including businesses) to use their religious beliefs to discriminate,” the American Civil Liberties Union explained in a fact sheet published last year.
The majority of these bills are expanded version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which the Supreme Court ruled last year exempted Hobby Lobby from providing conception coverage for its employees on religious grounds.
Nineteen states currently have RFRA legislation on the books, but even in some of those states, Republican legislators are attempting to broaden legal protection for discrimination. In Arizona last year, the legislature passed a revised version of its extant RFRA law, only to have Republican Governor Jan Brewer veto it, saying it was too “broadly worded and can result in unintended and negative consequences.”
In Florida, Satanists have already exploited such “unintended consequences,” using the Hobby Lobby decision as a means of exempting members of the Satanic Temple from the state’s mandatory informed consent laws dealing with abortion.
But increasingly, Republican lawmakers see these laws a way to protect state officials from having to perform ceremonies — such as same-sex weddings — that they find objectionable on religious grounds. Last year, Michigan, Texas, North Carolina, Utah, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Maine introduced new or expanded RFRA legislation.
Which is not to say that some states have not tried to make concessions, even if they did contain a poison pill. In Michigan, for example, Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger agreed to support House Bill 5959, which would have prohibited sexual discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation — but only if it was yoked to House Bill 5958, which would have allowed for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation if there were religious objections.