Neil Gorsuch is Donald Trump’s choice for the Supreme Court, and you may be wondering: “Do I need to be worried about this guy?” The answer: Yes, yes you do, unless you don’t like having the freedom to marry, to get medical care, to have a place to live, or to use the bathroom.
Neil hasn’t said much about LGBT people. At his confirmation hearing, he was asked about LGBT citizens, and his response was, “what about them?” He also said that while marriage equality is settled law, the interpretation of that law remains up for debate.
That’s a cute way of saying that while technically same-sex marriage is legal, he believes opponents could still carve out restrictions and exemptions to the point where for some, marriage no longer means marriage.
That sounds bad enough, but previously, he said same-sex couples shouldn’t use courts to secure the freedom to marry, which means that he doesn’t believe same-sex couples should be able to count on the Constitution’s guarantee of due process and equal protection. That’s a problem, especially if a case comes before him that challenges marriage equality ― which is likely to happen very soon.
That’s because Republicans are working on a variety of lawsuits and bills challenging marriage that could wind up before the Supreme Court. For example, there’s a Texas case where state officials are saying that even though same-sex couples can get married, the state can still treat them legally like they’re single. So, couples might be denied access to a spouse in a hospital, or denied Social Security, or prevented from making medical decisions for their kids. The Constitution is supposed to prevent that kind of treatment by providing everyone with equal protection under the law. But apparently Neil doesn’t see it that way.
What else do we know about him? Well, his high school yearbook says that he was president of the Fascism Forever club, but now his classmates say that was just a joke. Haha, good one. As a judge, his rulings are even funnier ― he’s one of the chief architects of the Hobby Lobby decision, which declared that corporations are people, and can have religious beliefs, and those beliefs can exempt them from laws that everyone else has to follow.
He also wrote that it’s ok to deny medical care to trans people in prison, and that employers can bar trans employees from using the bathroom because of “safety.” He sided with a nursing home that wanted to be able to withhold medical coverage on the basis of religion. And he sided with officials who wanted to build religious monuments on public property. That always goes well.
So basically, he’s hostile to queers, and he’s OK with granting exemptions to laws for religious purposes. That’s a huge problem, because it fits perfectly with another dangerous trend: those turn-away-the-gays bills that have been spreading across the country. Remember those? The laws that say it’s ok for any person or business to discriminate against queer people? Well, now a bunch of congressional Republicans are trying to pass a national version called the First Amendment Defense Act. If its provisions become law, either by passing or through executive order, it would mean anyone in America could treat queer people as second-class citizens with no repercussions.
What would that look like? Well, you could be kicked out of school for being gay. Or denied a loan for being a lesbian. You could be evicted for having your boyfriend over. Or if you marry someone from another country, they could be denied citizenship. Or denied access to your husband’s ashes when he dies. Or left off of your child’s birth certificate. These aren’t hypotheticals ― much of this was legal until the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution protects equal rights for queer people. And in many states, some of these things are still legal.
If the First Amendment Defense Act becomes law, it would be challenged and join dozens of other LGBT-related cases potentially heading to the Supreme Court. Almost all of them involve some form of religious permission to discriminate. Neil’s record shows that that’s exactly the kind of permission he’s likely to rule in favor of. With him on the court, queer people could lose more than just marriage ― they could lose their home, job, access to adoption, immigration, health care, tax benefits, and who even knows what else.
So ultimately, even though Neil won’t say where he stands on equal rights for LGBTs, at this point he doesn’t need to. He’s already shown us.
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