The news has been full of stories of businesses discriminating against LGBT people: bakers who won’t make wedding cakes for same-sex couples, wedding venues who won’t host weddings for same-sex couples, and so forth. In many of these cases, the legal retaliation from the LGBT community has been met with the excuse of religious freedom. Now, the Republican National Convention has passed a resolution supporting the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), which serves to make these cases substantially more frustrating.
If FADA were to be approved, it would prevent the government from taking action when businesses (or non-profits) discriminate against same-sex couples. In each of the cases noted above and so many like them, businesses would be able to claim religious freedom to not serve same-sex couples, even when that couple is legally married in the state in question. This act would do tremendous harm to the LGBT community, as organizations and employees from homeless shelters to federal tax workers would be able to refuse to serve LGBT persons.
Aside from the obvious injustice of such an act, there are a handful of points of contention with this resolution. Most notably, one of the examples provided by Ellen Barrosse, of the RNC, was the organization Catholic Charities, which refused to place children in the homes of same-gender couples through their adoption services. If the organization had been acting privately, perhaps their claim might have had some legitimacy. However, they were partially state-funded and therefore any attempts to discriminate against same-sex couples led to a valid retraction of those funds. The right to bigotry in the name of religious freedom end at the line between private and public funding.
In response, the Human Rights Campaign made their disapproval clear; JoDee Winterhof of the HRC said that while the “right to believe is fundamental… the right to use taxpayer dollars to promote discrimination is not.” Unfortunately, not all opinions about the LGBT community can be changed quickly, or perhaps at all. Our best legal recourse, as Winterhof notes, is to insist that public funding not be used to support such discrimination.
In all honesty, it is disheartening to see this resolution passed, especially so quietly. While it is no secret that the Republican Party rarely, if ever, acts in the best interests of the LGBT community, to see the direct sanction of discrimination is frustrating. Sometimes, it feels like we’re taking steps backwards. As a community, we have to push back and insist not only to the RNC, but also to the public at large, that acts such as this are violations of our fundamental rights and are not to be tolerated.