Animus: (noun, A-ni-mus) “a usually prejudiced and often spiteful or malevolent ill will.”
Not to be outdone by all of the anti-LGBT legislation happening in North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, and other state legislatures, members of the federal House of Representatives is weighing in with their own proposed legislation and twisted rationale for it. The bills’ sponsors declare – with a straight face – that it is about the “freedom of religion” and “religious liberty” guaranteed in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. In fact, it has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with animus toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
H.R. 2802, sponsored by Raul Labrador of Idaho and co-sponsored by 167 of his Republican colleagues along with sole Democrat Daniel Lipinski of Illinois, is subtitled “A Bill to prevent discriminatory treatment on any person on the basis of views held with respect to marriage,” has the short title of the “First Amendment Defense Act,” or FADA. The bill proposes that “the Federal Government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”
The First Amendment is not under attack, nor is religion. No ordained person of any faith can be compelled to preside at the wedding of a same sex couple (or anyone else, for that matter). Despite hand-wringing about the so-called “War on Religion” being waged by the “godless Left,” it is simply not the case that religious practice, doctrine and polity are under attack, and certainly not with respect to marriage. But the fear mongering and rhetoric that would have conservative clergy believe that “they” are coming to make you “gay marry” someone, continues unabated — animated by proposed laws like this one.
Notice who is being treated as the “victim” here. This bill identifies those who are conservative on the issue of marriage (those who believe marriage to be possible solely between one man and one woman) are the ones most likely to be discriminated against and to need protection, not those same-sex couples who have lived without access to marriage equality (and with other forms of discrimination) for centuries. The anti-gay marriage sentiment that is protected in this bill does not even have to stem from one’s particular religion, but can simply be a “moral conviction,” sincerely held.
In other words, if I really, sincerely believe it, I should be able to discriminate.
Interestingly – and probably to bolster their case that this is about the sacred institution of marriage – FADA would also cover those who, in the name of religion or morality, want to discriminate against unmarried heterosexual couples who are living together and (presumably) having sex.
Does anyone believe this law will be used to discriminate against heterosexual couples? In the last twenty-plus years, I have not officiated at a single wedding of a heterosexual couple who were not already living together. And not once has any of the couples I have married been refused a wedding cake or lost a job because they were living together with someone without benefit of marriage.
This is not about religion or the institution of marriage. It is about being permitted to express animus toward gay and lesbian people by discriminating against those gay people who are exercising their right to marry the person they love – a right ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges nearly one year ago.
This is not just about wedding cakes and photographers. If FADA, or something similar to it, were to become law, an employer could refuse to grant family or medical leave for an employee to care for her same-sex spouse. An employee might be forced to forego applying for company-provided medical insurance for his same-sex spouse if such an application for benefits meant he would be fired from his job for divulging to his religiously conservative employer that he was gay and married.
To add insult to injury, many of the religious groups and people who seek to be exempt from treating gay couples equally are recipients of federal funding for one program or another. In other words, the federal government collects taxes from everyone, and then distributes those monies – including to those who want an exemption from the fair treatment of those gay and lesbian citizens who have paid those taxes. FADA is asking that we, as citizens, fund discrimination. What is most offensive is that all of this is being sought in the name of religion.”
As a religious leader, I am offended by such crass and self-serving use of religion. The god of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam calls the faithful to compassion and justice, not bigotry. Jesus of Nazareth taught his disciples to care for the stranger and welcome the marginalized – not discriminate against them. The appeal to religion as a justification for discrimination is to turn religion on its head and to make it the opposite of what it is meant to be. If there is a “war on religion, surely it is being waged by those who would propose such a bill as this in the name of religion.
Linking discrimination to God is as old as history itself. Slavery was justified using Holy Scripture. The denigration and subjugation of women was (and continues to be) justified that way. Let us be clear: Discrimination wrapped in the language of faith is still discrimination.
At the end of the day, bills targeting the LGBT community in the name of “religious liberty” are not about religion at all. They are a “Get out of jail free” card for hatred and discrimination. They are about animus.
The Supreme Court in its 1996 Romer v. Evans decision made known its opinion of animus-driven legislation: “the amendment seems inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class that it affects; it lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests.” Legislation based on animus toward LGBT people, even if wrapped in “religious liberty” language, will ultimately be declared unconstitutional. There is no place for it in America.
V. Gene Robinson is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, DC, and the IX Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. Follow him on Twitter @BishopGRobinson