Back on defense

After The Hobby Lobby Decision, The March To Equality Faces New Hurdles

Scales of justiceWe’ve been on the winning side of things for so long, it’s hard to remember just how embattled the LGBT community once was just a few years ago.

But we’re about to get a refresher course. Just one week after the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, it’s clear that the legal and political landscape has totally changed. Instead of a rolling series of victories, we’re now faced with having to fight against the special right to homophobia accorded on the basis of religion minted by the conservative majority.

Two recent episodes illustrate just how different things have become. In Kansas, conservative legislators are taking the ruling as a green light to reintroduce a bill to protect “religious liberty,” by which they largely mean the right of homophobic bakers not to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples. A similar measure died in the last session, one of a series of like-minded (or, more appropriately, empty-minded) bills that were floated around the nation, most notoriously in Arizona. 

The fact that Kansas conservatives see the ruling as providing momentum underscores the fact that the Supreme Court decision will be used far and wide as a legal assault on LGBT rights. Strictly speaking, the ruling only applies to contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act, but no one can now doubt that the majority justices — five Catholic men — unleashed a nightmare for us.

The other sign that the playing field is different is the decision by NGLTF, Lambda Legal, the ACLU and the National Center for Lesbian Rights to withdraw their support for the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act on the grounds that religious exemptions in the bill are too broad. The groups fear that under the Hobby Lobby ruling, the exemptions would given a wide-range of businesses and institutions carte blanche to discriminate in the workplace.

ENDA has been on life-support for so long that pulling the plug hardly matters. It’s chances of passage in the Republican-controlled House are a mathematically certain zero. What matters is that religious exemptions that were once troublesome are now deal-breakers because the Supreme Court has conferred out-sized privileges on the basis of religious belief.

In essence, we’re entering a period of dueling rights: our right to marriage equality and workplace protection, and the right of religious conservatives to deny us that recognition. The Hobby Lobby ruling set up that tension, and it will play out in court for years to come.

In the end, our rights are more likely to prevail. Polling is trending decidedly in our favor. What we’re seeing is the last gasp of the antigay right trying to hold onto its urge to discriminate. Over time, that grasp is bound to slip, and the courts will revert back to a more narrow reading of the Hobby Lobby ruling. The tide of history remains on our side.

That doesn’t mean that the victory will be complete. Perhaps the Court did just make the world safe for homophobic wedding cake makers. What we will have to get used to is something we haven’t felt for some time: what it’s like to lose for a change.

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  • Cam

    This is what we get for organizations like HRC and others trying to placate religious bigots by inserting those phony religious exemptions into gay rights laws.

    NO religion can be forced to marry people or allow people it doesn’t want as members to be members. A Baptist can’t sue a Catholic church for not allowing them to marry in it. Mormons never had to let blacks in, they changed their police around 1980 because of bad publicity, no law made them do it nor COULD make them do it.

    So by continually saying “Oh, we’ll put all of these religious exemptions into gay rights laws” which only repeated the constitutional protections that religions already have, those large gay groups and weak politicians have brought us to this to a certain extent.

    As for ENDA, Ask yourself, why is HRC pushing ahead with this bad ENDA bill when every other group has dropped out? Because ENDA is the ONLY thing HRC has that they have been behind from the beginning. Without ENDA they have done NOTHING. They tried to PREVENT people going for the DADT repeal, and for marriage. Saying we should focus on ENDA. Marriage and DADT repeal were pushed for by the grass roots with HRC saying it was asking too much, and it would upset people.

    So they will push ENDA as much as possible since this bill is all they’ve gotten. 50 million dollars a year was that organizations budget at it’s heigh, and THIS is all they’ve got.

  • Derek Jones

    I agree with this comment yes I really do.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    The Catholic-5 on the Supreme Court must have a notion that Republicans are in trouble and that it will be years before they come into power, hence, Citizens United, gutting Voting Rights Act, Hobby-Lobby, and Union harming decisions. They’re wanting another conservative to be appointed for life on the Supreme Court. Politically motivated and religiously coercive men will set aside their legal standards in order to make their party remain in power. If Hobby-Lobby dries up and goes out of business, if bakeries refusing to bake cakes for same-gender marriages close doors, if Republicans lose election after election (despite cheating, gerrymandering, suppressing votes, and excluding people different than they,) this will be an encouraging sign. Even though these hacks are on the bench, manipulating American life and coercion is obvious, people will not stand for it. Equality is above mere justices, Bible-thumpers, and politicians of this day. The concept of equality may be challenged, but never defeated.

  • Polaro

    In general I find HRC bashing to be a really bad waste of energy. I live and work in DC and I know HRC does a lot of good and have the best access to the politicians. They made the difference on DOMA in the courts. ENDA is a complex issue and I am sure the smart people at HRC have their reasons for this political decision. I’m not sure they are right this time and think the other find LGBT organization may have gotten this one right and HRC is wrong. But, I’m not about to turn on our friends at HRC over it. Neither should any of you. We have enough real enemies to fight without getting bitchy with allies.

  • throwslikeagirl

    Two steps forward, one step back, is still one step forward.

  • Polaro

    @cam Watch the DOMA movie. Chad Griffin, HRC President, is there in every scene because HRC funded a lot of the legal fight – going back years. To suggest HRC was not involved, if not an instrumental player, in the legal victory against DOMA at the Supreme Court would not be accurate. HRC takes an incremental approach that works with politicians, if not every back-seat-driving gay guy. So, when people bash HRC or GLAD or Lambda Legal or any of the other good groups I just find it so very short-sighted, and usually not factually correct. Perhaps the strategy is to get the ENDA law passed and then get the religious clause killed in the courts. I don’t know the strategy, but I am sure they won’t be tipping their hand to placate you guys who probably donate zero to any of these groups anyway.

  • Mezaien

    Just not the fucked up Christian shit. Send all the Christian to Europe.

  • Cam


    Nice try, but the case that gutted DOMA was the Eddie Windsor case which HRC had nothing to do with.

    Also, the Prop 8 case, you know the one that you mentioned Chad Griffin being a part of?…. Well you left out the part where AT FIRST HRC tried to get them not to push the case, THEN after they won in the district court HRC came scurrying back to try to be part of the case and the lawyers and the plaintiff’s in the case told them to go F**k themselves.

    HRC also tried to prevent the community from pushing for Marriage AND tried to not fight for the DADT repeal. Isn’t it funny how HRC was so SURE the country was not ready for those and instead kept pushing their “Incremental” march for ENDA and yet once the grass roots pushed, BOTH DADT and Marriage made gigantic strides in a very very short time, and HRC is STILL failing to get anything done on a VERY VERY simple bill.

    HRC had raised 50 million a year for ages. Gigantic lobbying campaigns have effected huge changes with a fraction of that money and yet HRC’s one signature issue, ENDA has stagnated for decades. If the community had used just a fraction of that money to hire a real lobbying firm there would have been far better access to politicians AND ENDA would have passed 10 years ago.

    So please don’t try to rewrite history, we all saw HRC tell the community to sit down, shut up and not push for anything, and we all saw them eat crow when the community didn’t listen, and got Marriage, and DADT repeal, and DOMA killed without them.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    NCLR was fairly pathetic too, during that time. Olson and Boise fight like we are right. I stopped donating to HRC and NCLR after the Prop H8 casement to trial. I want to donate to those who believe we are correct in demanding equality. The other night Olson and Boise were asked about the Supreme Court and all of the decisions that have been made lately that make it more difficult to maintain Democratic power. The answer Boise gave was not satisfactory. It was something along the lines that these kinds of decisions are made by both sides. He listed them that night. He was able to rattle off the cases and the Justices responsible for these decisions like some well-worn prayer. It didn’t build a ton of confidence in me. I’m starting to feel as though our system is not working, if our equality is resting on the Catholic-5. The endless law suits drains our community of money that we could put towards charities of our choice, politicians that support us, and growing our community’s wealth. The law suits are annoying little mosquitoes, but after thousands of these vectors start sucking, it’s quite draining. The SCOTUS has made sure that we will be mired in law suits for years to come. Thanks Catholic-5.

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