On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of same-sex marriage after a long, conflicting battle. The decision made the United States the 21st country to rule in favor of same-sex marriage, granting LGBT citizens a huge victory in their fight for equal rights. By establishing this new civil right, it was a message to Americans of hope, love, and acceptance. But, it wasn’t enough. Since the start of 2016, CNN reports that nearly 200 bills have been proposed in legislatures across the country that will restrict these hard-won rights. Of these bills, 100 of them use religious beliefs as a reason to restrict LGBT people from using a variety of services, being a part of many groups, and buying from a multitude of stores. States such as Kansas, Georgia, and North Carolina, are under fire for their religious freedom bills. While some citizens believe that this protects their religious rights, others point towards the discrimination that these bills seem to surely enhance.
— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) April 13, 2016
In early April 2016, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a religious freedom bill that will, “protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government.” In North Carolina, a recently signed bill titled the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, also known as the “bathroom bill,” bans individuals from using public bathrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex, which directly affects transgender people and their rights. In late March, legislation was signed by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback that allows students to be restricted from membership into campus religious groups.
While there are some who support these bills, there are also many that don’t. For these three states, major hits have been taken due to their decision to enact these bills, which many people believe only enhances and allows discrimination. For North Carolina, the bathroom bill has caused PayPal to pull their facility from the state, which was expected to be built in Charlotte and provide 400 people with employment. PayPal isn’t the only corporation to take a stand. In the wake of Georgia’s bill being passed, it was publicly denounced by MGM Resorts International, Nissan, Toyota and Tyson Foods, a multitude of public figures, LGBT activists, and more. For North Carolina, the hits included a letter to Governor McCrory signed by more than 80 CEOS and executives pushing for a repeal. Signatures that sparked the most interest include those from Apple, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Pfizer and Marriott. Not to mention that the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, and everyone’s favorite comedian, Ellen DeGeneres also had something to say.
While many states are being faced with these discriminatory bills, not all of them are approving them into action. The Free Excercise Protection Act was a bill that would have allowed pastors to refuse to marry same-sex couples, allowed professionals such as photographers to not work at same-sex weddings, and allowed faith-based organizations to fire, refuse to hire, and refuse services to LGBT people. The bill caused extreme controversy for Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. Prior to Deal’s decision, many big players in the Georgia economy made it clear that they were pulling out of the game if the governor passed the bill. Disney stated that it would stop filming in the state, while the NFL said that the bill could cost Atlanta future opportunities to host the Super Bowl. Companies such as Unilever, Coca-Cola, and Home Depot, were a few of the many that do a lot of business in Atlanta and came out against the bill, while some even threatened pulling business and investments from the state. Deal, who vetoed the bill, is quoted saying, “Georgia is a welcoming state. It is full of loving, kind and generous people… I intend to do my part to keep it that way. For that reason I will veto House Bill 757.”
— Bruce Springsteen (@springsteen) April 8, 2016
Tennessee is the next state that’s due to make a decision regarding a bill that will allow therapists to refuse to see patients if they feel it violates their religious beliefs. While many argue that the American Counseling Association ethics code does not allow a therapist to impose his or her beliefs while working with a patient, other groups, such as The Family Action Council of Tennessee, is in support of the bill. Once again companies are coming out with strong words, urging Tennessee to refuse to pass the bill. Viacom, owner of Country Music Television which is based in Tennessee and supplies many with jobs told CNN, “Viacom and CMT have a deep commitment to tolerance, diversity and inclusion, and discriminatory laws like HB2414 and SB2387 are inconsistent with our values. As proud members of Tennessee’s welcoming and vibrant business community, we implore state lawmakers to reject these proposals.” Governor Bill Haslam is expected to make a decision in the near future regarding the bill.
The harsh truth about religious freedom bills is that they are far from over. Without a doubt, more and more bills and legislature that look to edit the laws of the United States will be brought to governors’ desks. From the moment that same-sex marriage was legalized, these bills began popping up over and over. Aside from the states mentioned, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming have also had to deal with bills of this nature in the last year. While some citizens see this as a need for religious rights to be protected, many of those people fail to see how these bills violate LGBT rights in response. Whether you stand for or against these bills, staying educated on what they mean for all people is what’s most important.
-By Kaylee Denmead for The Untitled Magazine.
Photo 1 courtesy of AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis