Over the past few months I have watched events in the LGBT community unfold with an increasing sense of unease. When I saw that Michael Signorile's new book is entitled It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, it helped crystallize what I have been sensing. What I have been sensing isn't one thing: It is a series of interconnected issues that paint a deeply troubling picture of where we as a country are headed on LGBT issues for the foreseeable future.
1. The Rise of Christian Theocracy
When George Orwell wrote "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others," he was satirizing the Bolshevik revolution. Today, we are seeing a new, Americanized version of this: "All religious beliefs are equal, but some are more equal than others."
Fifty-seven percent of Republicans want to establish Christianity as our national religion. Only 30 percent were opposed. Conservative Representative Sam Johnson (R-TX) in the U.S. Congress believes there is no right to "freedom from religion," and has introduced legislation to require "So help me God," in the military's oath of office. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia argued in an opinion last year that the Constitution favors religion over irreligion. Conservative hero and Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore believes the First Amendment only protects Christianity.
The kind of Christianity they want to protect isn't the kinder, gentler version you'll find in affirming churches. Those were long ago rendered moot in the cultural debate as apostates and outliers by the Christian right.
When Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced his candidacy for president at Liberty University, the message was clear: His is a candidacy on behalf of Evangelical Christians. Cruz's father is very much a proponent of the idea that the United States was created by Christians to be a Christian nation. Polling reflects this: The Evangelicals Cruz is courting want all aspects of American life to be controlled by their Christian values. These values include an overt hostility to LGBT people.
Let there be no mistake: When Republicans are put in office, they have been put there by the people who want their brand Christianity to trump all other religious or secular outlooks, and they intend to make it so. More frightening is the fact that many of the corporate backers of these politicians want it too. Which brings us to:
2. Christian Oligarchy Is Ascendant
Several legal developments over the past few years are terrifying. With the Citizens United, the Supreme Court decided that businesses are people for the purposes of freedom of speech. With the Hobby Lobby case, corporations are people for the purposes of freedom of religion too. On top of this, last year researchers at Princeton University showed that the U.S. is already an oligarchy.
The disparity in power between a corporation and its employees is huge, and only widening. Now imagine they have both the ability to enforce their religious beliefs on its employees and control the government.
Only, you don't have to imagine, because we're already there. While fewer and fewer Americans identify with any given religion, a small sub-set of conservative religious ideas, people and businesses are being given greater and greater power over other Americans based solely on their religious beliefs.
Which is pretty much the definition of an oligarchy.
3. Special Religious Exemptions to Laws Enjoy Popular Support
Indiana has just passed the most sweeping Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) expansion to date, following in the footsteps of bastions of civil rights like Mississippi. Arkansas, Texas, and others are poised to do the same. What many people are missing in this law is that the RFRA explicitly acknowledges a right for corporations to discriminate.
Most voters probably do not realize these special religious exemptions to following the law, or even basic decency go far beyond simply florists or bakers: These RFRA expansions grant the right to deny virtually any service to anyone for any reason as long as there is a claim of religious belief behind it. This includes vital services including doctors and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).
We are again a divided country, where over half the nation believes, and will have the right to say, "We don't serve your kind here." Worse yet, we have learned nothing from the legacy of the civil rights movement. Fifty-seven percent of Americans believe that businesses should have the right to deny goods and services to lesbians and gays.
Even if that right to deny of service ends up being EMTs who point, and laugh, and do nothing to save a transgender woman bleeding to death in the middle of the street.
4. This Isn't Even Close to a Fair Fight
Christians are free to discriminate against LGBT people because we do not have much in the way of legal protections, and what little we have are being stripped away. Conversely, LGBT people and our allies cannot legally discriminate against our Christian tormentors. While religion is specifically protected by both the Constitution and the 1964 Civil Rights act, sexual orientation and gender identity do not enjoy any similar protections.
We are fighting this one with both hands tied behind our backs.
(While some argue that transgender people are fully protected by the 1964 Civil Rights Act under the classification of sex, it only actually works out that way if you're a transgender person with the means to file a federal lawsuit, and living in a Circuit Court district with favorable controlling case law.)
5. We Won't Be Gaining Those Federal Protections Anytime Soon
When the Employment Non-Discrimination Act spun in (again) last year because the religious exemptions were too large, what emerged was a proposal to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, or to craft similar legislation from scratch. Such legislation will not happen, however.
LGBT people will not accept legislation with a religious exemption that allows fundamentalist Christians (and their businesses) to conveniently ignore everything in the bill. Republicans will not let such a bill pass without said exemptions. The composition of the House won't change much (due to gerrymandering) until at least the 2022 election.
It doesn't matter how well protections for LGBT people poll. Support for more thorough background checks on people who purchase guns consistently polls at about 90 percent, but it isn't enough to actually get anything through Congress either.
6. This Is Part of a Coordinated Legislative Strategy
The Republican efforts represent a three pronged approach to making their parts of the U.S. as unlivable as possible for LGBT people without actually singling out LGBT people, and violating Romer v. Evans or Lawrence v. Texas. The first are RFRAs. The second is nullifying local non-discrimination ordinances at the state level. Finally, bathroom bills, are easily the most naked attempt at driving transgender people out of their respective states.
7. History Says We Won't See the End of This in Our Lifetimes
There was a 99-year gap between the end of the Civil War and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Racism is still alive and well 51 years after that. Is there any reason to believe homophobia and transphobia will die any faster?
A more pressing question, though, is what sort of country will come from the rising of the Christian oligarchy we are witnessing today?
The Republic of Gilead comes to mind.
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