As the momentum builds toward a United States Supreme Court decision in favor of nationwide marriage equality, the LGBT community in recent weeks has faced an onslaught of proposed or newly enacted state laws aimed at encouraging government officials, businesses, individuals and other organizations to refuse to serve LGBT people. Some of these laws specifically identify LGBT people as their target; others appear neutral on their face but, in fact, are intended to discriminate against LGBT people, other minorities, and women. These recently passed laws deeply disturb us, but the opposition that businesses, local governments, and millions of Americans have given to these laws is truly heartening. This impassioned and broad based support for LGBT equality gives our community and the majority of Americans who support us the momentum and opportunity finally to demand that Congress and state legislatures across the country enact laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination in all aspects of our lives. We must seize the moment.
The circumstances surrounding Indiana Governor Mike Pence's signing that state's law and the events that unfolded thereafter have provided the nation telling evidence of the real intentions of those behind these types of legislation: political gain at the expense of LGBT people. Governor Pence, who has long opposed equality for LGBT people in areas such as employment protections, marriage, and military service, revealed again his lack of support for LGBT equality multiple times in his now infamous interview on ABC television's This Week. When the Governor signed the bill, he surrounded himself with known leaders of statewide anti-LGBT groups.
The national political strategy behind many of these laws is not new and is an attempt to exercise political power by trying to instill unfounded fear that ensuring equality for LGBT Americans will somehow impinge on American's freedom of religion. Frank Schubert and Jeff Flint, the campaign managers for the 2008 Yes on Proposition 8 campaign that took away same-sex couples' freedom to marry in California, explained in a 2009 Politics Magazine article how this fear-based strategy was a key component of their campaign. Shubert and Flint stated that in developing the Yes on 8 campaign they "strongly believed that a campaign in favor of traditional marriage would not be enough to prevail" and that "passing Proposition 8 would depend on [their] ability to convince voters that same-sex marriage had broader implications for Californians and was not only about the two individuals involved in a committed gay relationship." They reported they "probed long and hard in countless focus groups and surveys to explore reactions to a variety of consequences [their] issue experts identified." Shubert and Flint came up with the message: "Tolerance is one thing; forced acceptance of something you personally oppose is a very different matter." They focused on three areas to manipulate voters as to this imagined "conflict of rights," one of which was "religious freedom."
With nearly 60 percent of Americans supporting marriage equality according to a March 2015 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, many opponents of equality are attempting to fabricate a threat to religious freedom now, as Shubert and Flint did in California in 2008. For decades, opponents of equality have attempted to use whatever message and strategy they have found effective to raise money, to motivate their base, or to scare voters. These tactics are political at their core and shift over time as Americans come to reject each one of them.
The same type of strategy based on a fabricated threat to religious freedom is also being employed to undermine women's lives. For example, laws of this type have already been used to enable some large businesses and organizations to impose their owners' religious views regarding contraception on women employees' medical decisions. Indeed, Indiana's recently enacted law invites individuals, businesses, and other organizations to refuse to serve any person simply based on what the individual or business claims is their religious view. The law could subject women, LGBT people, and millions of other Americans to discrimination and exclusion from vital services.
The outpouring of outrage at recent laws passed in Indiana and other states reveal that a majority of Americans embrace LGBT equality and want a nation where people do not have the door slammed shut on them because of who they are or whom they love. An Indianapolis businessperson developed a sign for store windows that states "This Business Serves Everyone," and the "We Serve Everyone" campaign has gone national since. A 2013 poll by Third Way and the Human Rights Campaign revealed that 69 percent of Americans believe business owners should not be allowed to refuse services to lesbian or gay people. Last year, pressure from a broad coalition of individuals and businesses who support equality forced conservative, then-Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to veto a similar bill in Arizona.
We as Americans from many diverse backgrounds must not let up now and insist that Congress and state legislatures across the country enact wide ranging protections for LGBT people. And we look to the United States Supreme Court in the marriage equality cases to be decided this June not only to rule in favor of the freedom to marry nationwide but to recognize full equality under the Constitution for LGBT Americans.
John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for nearly three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. They are leaders in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA.
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