In a 5-4-ruling this morning, the US Supreme Court announced that, in the Hobby Lobby case, the government cannot force companies to provide contraceptive coverage for employees.
That’s huge. Abortion coverage usually doesn’t mean a heck of a lot for gays and lesbians, but the decision sets a precedent that could do harm down the road for equal treatment in health insurance and discrimination by essentially declaring religious liberty to be superior to more secular concerns of employees. Hobby Lobbied sued the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act on the grounds that it violated the owner’s Christian moral standards by forcing it to provide contraceptive coverage.
Now that the Supreme Court has declared that corporations can have religious convictions, just like a person, the logical extension is that those same convictions could one day be justified in overruling well-established workplace nondiscrimination laws. In that scenario, an employer could justify a policy against hiring gays–or even anyone who seems gay-ish–by claiming that hiring gays or even providing health care to them would violate their company’s religious beliefs. Hobby lobby, which covers other forms of birth control, have not indicated such a sweeping view, but the potential is there for such an interpretation of the ruling.
Here’s a little background: the religious families who own Hobby Lobby (a chain of craft stores you may want to avoid at all cost) consider the morning-after pill abortion, despite it really not being abortion at all. But their religious beliefs say it is, so that’s what matters to them.
The government says there’s a minimum standard of health care that people must receive in order for a civilization to function (even if those people are women), and that Hobby Lobby is a company, not a person, and companies aren’t burdened by religious beliefs the way humans are.
So now that we have a ruling, what’s next? Well, the court’s made a determination on corporations, but the next lawsuit will be about nonprofits. Specifically, a nonprofit made up of nuns who care for the elderly. The leaders of that group, too, believe that there’s something so special about the possibility of conception that it would violate the organization’s collective conscience to prevent it from happening.
The case will probably reach to the Supreme Court next year.