On Tuesday July 7, 2015, I attended a “religious liberty” seminar sponsored by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute. I did this for two reasons. One to get continuing legal education credits to maintain my law license. Two to see what the religious (right-wing) folks were up to. This seminar was planned before the United States Supreme Court decided that gay folks could get married nationwide. I was probably one of the youngest people there, and fortunately there weren’t too many people there. The basic theme of this entire day was that the good Christians — who appeared to be mostly catholic — were absolutely apoplectic about the gay marriage decision. One older lady behind me proclaimed that we now live in dark times, while another gentleman bemoaned that things were very different from when he was growing up.
Religious liberty has been a hot topic recently. Several days after I attended this seminar, a lesbian was fired from a Catholic school outside Philadelphia after they found out she had been married. The diocese stated that she posed a threat to the integrity of the school, and it was a parent who turned her in. Then, on Monday, July 13, 2015, Ruth Ann Dailey of the Post Gazette wrote a column extolling religious liberty. The basis in all of this is that the meanie gays are attacking the poor Christians.
The speakers at this seminar, many of whom belong to right-wing organizations made these points:
Gay marriage will lead to polygamous marriages;
The Christian church is under attack;
The state will infringe on religious school’s freedom. Bob Jones University will have to accept gay marriage;
Religious Freedom Restoration Act won’t be permitted to be used to defend the right to refuse same sex marriage;
Supreme Court decision will lead to tyranny and totalitarianism…people who refuse to provide services for gay marriages will be forced by human relations commissions to be re-educated;
Religious objections will be swept away, and there will be a coercive balance of the rights of gays versus religious people.;
The discrimination against gay people should be contrasted with civil rights of the 1960’s. Good faith exception to gay marriage/gay rights isn’t the same as racial malice;
The belief against same sex marriage should be given space, and Christians should not be made into enemies of the state;
The government should not make businesses agree with same sex marriage, and if these businesses disagree, put them out of business. There should not be a government imposed orthodoxy;
Forcing a church to marry same sex couples is like forcing a Jewish eatery to make a ham sandwich.
Many of these points were emphasized at the end of the day, in what could only be described as an hour editorial by two gentlemen, Bradley Tupi, who works at a local law firm, and Randall Wenger, who started the Independence Law Center in Harrisburg. Mr. Tupi is also a member of Alliance Defending Freedom. Mr. Tupi was pessimistic about the future of religious liberty, while Mr . Wenger took a more “rational” position that all religious folks wanted was “space for religious freedom.” The phrase “giving space” was used several times during this presentation. Mr. Wenger stated that the free exercise clause was established under the Constitution — personal autonomy is part of human dignity. He further stated that fundamental liberties have long been established, and same sex marriage is not. The LGBT community acts with malice if we don’t consider religious exercise of faith.
So does your head hurt now? If we demand that business establishments don’t discriminate against us, we are trampling their religious freedom. We should give the good Christians space to exercise their religious freedom — they have moral objections to us, and if we object to them, we are engaging in tyranny. I don’t want to give anyone, under the guise of religion, “space” to discriminate against me. It’s not tyranny or totalitarianism to expect you, as a business owner, to refuse to bake me a damn cake because I’m gay. Or not to fire me or evict me. Or, even better, to refuse to issue me a marriage license. Somehow, we the victims of this constant barrage of hate, have become the oppressors! How did that happen? And, more importantly, how do we fight back?
My answer is always going to be educating yourself–thus my attendance at this odious seminar. And to vote. Because here is the scary part: all of the panelists are lawyers who don’t, or can’t, equate being LGBT with discrimination based on race as if, unlike race, being LGBT is something that’s chosen. And every one of them took Constitutional law in law school, just as I did. My reading of Equal Protection is that it extends to the LGBT community because being an LGBT individual is not a choice, just like being black [or being a woman] isn’t a choice. I didn’t choose it. But these lawyers often run for judge or for city council or for county council. Who knows how many right-wing anti-LGBT individuals get elected all across the country because we can’t be bothered to vote.
One final note. Several panel members expressed their wonder that the Catholic Church has been so patient and hasn’t excommunicated Justice Kennedy.
So, there you go folks.