Indiana-Style Attacks Reveal Everything Old Is New Again

04/13/2015 04:46 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
David McNew via Getty Images

It would be easy to think that Indiana's recent discrimination law, under the guise of "religious freedom," was just about the opponents of equality's obsession with the LGBTQ community.

But the law in question went much further than an attack on LGBTQ people and their families. It represented an attempt at imposing blanket discrimination based on some people's religious beliefs, providing an opportunity for the opponents of equality to settle some old scores with people they have been attacking for decades -- women and others who care about reproductive health.

Why are LGBTQ people interested in reproductive rights and justice? Several reasons: LGBTQ people use birth control, have abortions and use fertility treatments, and transgender people need access to a full range of health services to be their whole selves. We are interested in reproductive rights and justice because it's also about our autonomy and personal decision-making to control our own bodies. And we're interested in reproductive rights and justice because our respective legal rights and destinies have long been intertwined through Supreme Court decisions going back over 40 years. The latest of which was last year's Hobby Lobby ruling, which then served as the inspiration for the Indiana discrimination law.

Hobby Lobby was a game-changer as it allowed employers to impose their personal religious beliefs on their employees' healthcare decisions. The ruling was the result of the long-term comprehensive efforts to restrict women's rights, including access to abortion and other reproductive health services. Hobby Lobby was immediately used to justify expanded discrimination against LGBTQ people and their families: a terrible twofer from the opponents of equality.

Indiana style laws known as "RFRAs," "religious exemptions" or "religious refusals" are being introduced in state capitals across the land. To be sure, one of the intended outcomes is to strip away critical protections from LGBTQ people. But these types of laws have been used before to limit reproductive health options and open-up 50 shades of discrimination against people from all walks of life.

Under Indiana's discrimination law that Indiana lawmakers were scrambling to "fix," a man could claim that certain domestic violence laws don't apply to him because his religion teaches him that a husband has the right to discipline his wife and children as he sees fit; a doctor could withhold critical medical information that would allow a patient to make informed medical decisions because providing that information would conflict with the doctor's religious beliefs; a paramedic could refuse medical assistance to someone who is LGBTQ, claiming that they do not have to provide assistance to someone whose sexual orientation and gender identity conflicts with their religious beliefs; pharmacists in rural areas with only one pharmacy could refuse to fill prescriptions for daily birth control pills or HIV medications, leaving people without the medications they need; a high school guidance counselor could refuse to help a gay teenager by saying it goes against her religious beliefs; a landlord could refuse to rent an apartment to an unmarried couple or a single mother. All of this discrimination in the name of religious liberty and the ability of one person to unfairly impose their religious beliefs on someone else.

We progressives value all the pieces that make up a person's identity and the liberating feeling of being you in all its glory -- without the fear of discrimination, persecution and violence. Alternatively, our opponents produce laws that attack every component of people's lives; laws that discriminate against a woman for being a woman, a woman for being a lesbian, a women for being black.

As our opponents try to impose their prejudices and beliefs on the rest of us -- attempting to redefine, beyond recognition, our existing constitutional right of religious liberty -- progressives have reached a crossroads of opportunity. It's an opportunity for all progressives, from reproductive health advocates to labor unions to traditional civil rights advocates, to work even more closely together to resist laws that roll back freedoms and work for laws that expand freedoms.

The LGBTQ community has worked hard over the decades -- from Stonewall to the Supreme Court -- to become a powerful and inspirational movement and catalyst for long lasting change.

The LGBTQ movement is a movement with momentum. Now that we have had some success in some areas, we have a moral obligation to use our progress, our visibility, and any relative privilege we might have to drive broader change beyond the LGBTQ community -- and to do our part for a changed and just society. The LGBTQ movement has momentum now, and we can't squander it, we can't silence it, and we cannot deny our responsibility to use it for greater good.

The greater truth we hold is that freedom is not a zero sum game. Sadly, the proponents of these laws -- discrimination cynically shrouded in religion -- believe otherwise. We believe that other people's lives are not diminished by our freedom to be whole. My life is not diminished by your freedom to be whole. I don't become less of a human if more of your humanity is recognized.

It's time for us to mobilize a larger movement to regain the long-standing balance of separation of church and state that is in the United States Constitution -- every single one of us has the right to our own beliefs but we cannot impose them on others. It's time for us to fully recognize what we are dealing with: A re-energized right wing who thinks they have found a way to divide us further, to continue to chip away at progress made over decades by many movements. We say no to mixing religion with hardball politics.

Last week the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund launched a new campaign called "Nix It Now" (#NixItNow) urging politicians to reject Indiana-style blanket discrimination laws. Go to the organization's facebook page to share a "Nix it Now" graphic.