What the Supreme Court gives, the Supreme Court can take away. The Court has decided to hear the case involving corporations that object on religious grounds to providing employees with birth control options mandated under Obamacare. Depending on how the court rules, the decision has the potential to punch a million loopholes into existing LGBT protections, most notably marriage equality.
The immediate issue at hand is the effect on health care services mandated under the Affordable Care Act. Corporations like Hobby Lobby, a crafts store chain, insist that providing employees access to birth control options that include drugs that prevent embryos from attaching to the uterus violates their freedom of religious expression.
The bigger issue is whether corporations can use religious expression to opt out of any law that they find objectionable. And guess what laws would be among the first to experience that backlash?
“If the court strikes down the contraception mandate, the implications could be broad,” Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA, told Talking Points Memo. “It could give businesses the right to seek exemptions from any number of generally applicable laws, including laws protecting against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”
In other words, all those bakers who refuse to provide cakes for gay weddings? They could be exempted from nondiscrimination laws. So could companies that refuse to rent to gay couples. Employers could fire gay employees if the company believes that being LGBT is immoral for religious reasons.
In essence, the Supreme Court has the potential to insert a giant morals clause into American life, with the religious right determining what constitutes morality. That’s exactly the type of thing that has been used to punish LGBT individuals in the very recent past.
Of course, you may say, how can corporations express religious freedom? Only people can do that. But under the notorious Citizens United ruling, which cleared the way for campaign contributions from corporations, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people and entitled to the same freedom of expression (assuming that people have large amounts of cash and vast institutional power that can be used to sway government to promote its own self-interest).
The Supreme Court usually makes its big decisions at the end of the term, so we may have to wait until June 2014 to know whether or not bigotry gets a free pass if it’s religion-based. Given the Court’s love of corporations, though, the odds don’t look good for a decision that would protect the LGBT community.