Wednesday, February 19, 2014

U.S. Catholic Bishops' Anti-Contraception Battle and Legislation Targeting Gay Citizens: Making the Connections

As Jill Filipovic notes at Common Dreams today, the logic underlying the horrific anti-gay legislation with which the Kansas legislature has recently flirted is exactly the same logic that is underlying the claims of those (including the U.S. Catholic bishops) who assert the right of even private employers to withhold contraceptive coverage from employees on grounds of "belief": the underlying logic in both instances is, as Fillipovic asserts, My "religious freedom means the freedom to limit everyone else's rights." Because I say so.

Because I believe.

As Dylan Scott points out for Talking Points Memo, Kansas is far from the only state in which such legislation specifically targeting gay citizens and asserting the right of "believers" to discriminate (because religious freedom) is under consideration:

Now legislation has popped up in Kansas, South Dakota and Tennessee in the last few weeks, which would give private businesses and individual government workers the right to deny services to same-sex couples if it would violate their "sincerely held religious beliefs," as both the Kansas and Tennessee bills put it. 
Bills in Arizona, Idaho and Mississippi share more in common with the law passed in Kentucky last year, the first of its kind, which prohibits, without a compelling reason, government interference with a person acting in line with their religious beliefs -- which gay rights advocates say could lead to discrimination against LGBT residents.

As Rebecca Sager maintains at Religion Dispatches, the reason we're seeing these discriminatory initiatives against gay citizens of one state after another, all citing "religious freedom" as the warrant for discrimination, is because they're a politically winning proposition. They're a winning proposition in a country in which support for marriage equality exceeds 50% in only 12 states, and in which about two-thirds of states already have no laws on the books outlawing discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation:

While they argue that the number of states with a pro-gay marriage majority is certainly shifting, there are still 38 states where courting voters with anti-gay policies could be a big win. Unfortunately this means no one should be surprised by newly proposed state-level laws and policies that would codify discrimination against gay men and women in the US.

And so while we'll read of wins for marriage equality in Virginia or Utah, at the very same time, we can expect to read more and more frequently about what those wins produce: ugly backlash in parts of the country where politicians stand to win--and to win big--by targeting gay citizens and appealing to the religious right.

And again: for those of us who are Catholic and who think (as many of us do) that an ethic of compassion and respect for human rights should guide our political decision-making, it's critically important to remember that we have the U.S. Catholic bishops to thank for crafting and pushing the notion of "religious freedom" that is being cited by legislators in one state after another who want to turn gay citizens into second-class citizens. With its absurd argument that I should be allowed to restrict your rights and demean you, or block your access to medical care, because my "belief" tells me that I ought to enjoy that right . . . . 

The photo is from the Flickr stream of American Life League, available for sharing under Creative Commons license, and appears in this U.S. Catholic article by Scot Alessi about the USCCB's "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign.

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