WATCH: A Field Guide to Spotting and Stopping the Homophobic Laws Coming to Your Home State

03/06/2015 04:36 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Don't look now, but while marriage equality has been spreading across the country, homophobic lawmakers have found a sneaky new way to chip away at civil rights. And not just gay and lesbian civil rights -- EVERYONE'S civil rights.

In some cases, they're passing laws that actually make nondiscrimination against the law. It sounds nuts, but it's happening right now, and almost nobody's paying attention.

This is happening because the opponents of marriage equality have finally realized that they're going to lose. Their backup plan? Pass laws that quietly revoke civil rights across the board, hitting gays and lesbians and everyone else along the way.

In Alabama, for example, Republican State Rep. Mike Ball just proposed HB56, a new law that would allow religious groups to disregard the marriage of any couple they don't approve of.

He says it's "not a major change in the law." But the truth is that it creates a special new license to discriminate. It could be used by hospitals to stop couples from making medical decisions for each other. Or it could force married couples apart at homeless shelters. Mike Ball's target is probably gay couples, but his law could also be used against interracial couples, or interfaith couples, or anyone with a previous marriage.

Different states are considering over two dozen laws like these around the country. And they're hard to spot, since they're usually cloaked in feel-good terms like "religious liberty" or mundane language like "commerce improvement."

But like the telltale droppings of a rodent infestation, once you know what to look for, you can spot them with ease.

I made this video to explain exactly what these laws do, and how to identify them:

But if you're in a hurry, here's what you need to be on the lookout for:

  • Government-Required Discrimination: Laws that require government employees to turn away gay and lesbian couples. Any county clerk who does the right thing and helps an LGBT couple wed will lose their salary and pension.
  • Random Public Discrimination: Imagine if any time you needed a public service, you could be randomly turned away -- whether it was riding the bus, asking police for help, or getting a tax refund. These laws let any public employee decide whether or not to help you.
  • Religious Lawbreaking: Some politicians have latched onto a few bakers and florists and photographers who don't approve of gay and lesbian weddings, and created laws that give those businesses permission to discriminate against LGBTs. But the new exemptions actually go much further, letting any person or business break all kinds of laws, as long as they can claim they're doing it for religious purposes.
  • Banning Nondiscrimination: This is the most jaw-dropping of all. When these laws pass at the state level, they prohibit towns from providing any new nondiscrimination protection. Once again, LGBTs are the target, but other groups -- such as the elderly or veterans -- are affected too.

So, obviously, this is a huge looming catastrophe that could do a ton of damage -- it's like the global warming of civil rights.

The good news is that because these laws rely on secrecy, they can be defeated, in part, by exposing their true purpose. I made a second video explaining five simple steps you can take to stop the homophobic backlash:

To sum it up:

  1. Be out. If it's safe for you to be openly LGBT, do it. And if you're a straight ally, be out about that too.
  2. Listen to Opponents. When people who oppose nondiscrimination laws talk about things that are important to them (like their job, their home, their marriage, their education, or their family), listen and ask questions.
  3. Tell Your Story. Once you've listened to someone talk about the things that matter to them, tell them how you could lose all of those things if these anti-civil-rights laws pass.
  4. Be Vigilant. Watch out for these dangerous laws popping up in your home state. In fact, they may already have been proposed -- check the first video above to see if yours is on the map.
  5. Make a Fuss. If a dastardly lawmaker in your state proposes a law like these, don't let them get away with it. Sound the alarm on social media, make a video about the freedoms you stand to lose, or start a petition.

These tactics were proven to be super-effective with marriage equality, which is why national public opinion has flipped in the span of about a decade.

Homophobic lawmakers know that the tide is turning against them, and these laws are disguised for precisely that reason: their authors know that if people found out what they REALLY do, they'd be a lot less popular.

And that means that discriminatory laws can be defeated, in the same way that marriage bans were defeated. The first step is simply shining a light on them.