John M. Becker

In State Legislatures, Anti-LGBT Onslaught Continues

Filed By John M. Becker | February 25, 2015 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, religious exemption, religious freedom, religious liberty, special rights, Texas, West Virginia, Wyoming

quit_squirming.jpgAs marriage equality advances across the country and polls show that an overwhelming majority of young people reject anti-LGBT bigotry, opponents of LGBT human rights are growing increasingly panicked.

But instead of recognizing that they're on the wrong side of history and moving their prejudicial views out of the Stone Age, they're hysterically trying to cause as much damage to LGBT people as they possibly can, while they still have the power to do so.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the states, where conservative lawmakers are rushing to create special "rights" to discriminate against LGBT people under the guise of protecting "religious liberty" and banning cities and counties from adopting LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination laws. We've covered the onslaught of anti-LGBT attacks in the states here on Bilerico for months now, but it shows no signs of stopping.

Here's a sampling of the latest anti-LGBT attacks.

Arkansas

The "Land of Opportunity" just passed SB 202, a law that effectively bans LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances. But legislators there aren't done yet: they're gearing up to debate and pass HB 1228, which would make it legal for people and businesses to discriminate if they say their religion compels them to.

Walmart, which came under heavy criticism for not coming out against SB 202 until it was too late to do any good, released a statement this week condemning HB 1228. "We feel this legislation is... counter to our core basic belief of respect for the individual and sends the wrong message about Arkansas, as well as the diverse environment which exists in the state," it said.

Despite the state's new ban on local LGBT protection ordinances, the city council in Conway, Arkansas voted in its meeting on Tuesday to add them -- both sexual orientation and gender identity -- for city employees.

Indiana

The GOP-dominated Senate in the Hoosier State has overwhelmingly approved a so-called "religious freedom" measure that would allow business owners to refuse services to same-sex couples who are getting married. As the Indianapolis Star reports, the bill is a barely-concealed attempt by conservatives to get back at LGBT people for defeating a marriage discrimination amendment and winning the freedom to marry last year:

The Indiana Senate approved "religious freedom" legislation Tuesday on a 40-10 party line vote... All 10 Senate Democrats voted against the bill, which now moves to the House.

"You don't have to look too far to find a growing hostility toward people of faith," author Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, said. "This bill acts as a shield, not a sword."

The bill has become a rallying point for conservatives disappointed with last year's defeat of a proposed constitutional same-sex marriage ban and subsequent federal court decisions that effectively legalized gay marriage in Indiana.

Supporters say the measure is needed to protect religious business owners who don't want to provide services for same-sex weddings. Critics, however, say the measure would legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Iowa

Marriage equality has been the law of the land in Iowa for nearly six years thanks to a unanimous ruling from that state's Supreme Court, but GOP lawmakers in the Hawkeye State are still trying to turn back the clock and get the ruling overturned.

The Des Moines Register writes that a group of 23 Republicans are trying to put the question up to a statewide referendum:

Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, and Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Columbia, have introduced resolutions in the Iowa Senate and House seeking a statewide referendum on a state constitutional amendment to limit marriage to one man and one woman. The resolutions are co-sponsored by 21 other GOP legislators...

Chuck Hurley, vice president of The Family Leader, a Christian conservative group that has strongly opposed same-sex marriage, issued a statement praising the courage of the lawmakers.

"Throughout history, there has always been a faithful remnant who have refused to be discouraged or distracted from defending biblical truth. There is only marriage as created by God Himself," Hurley said.

Thankfully, the Iowa Senate is controlled by Democrats, and Guth acknowledges that trying to get the resolution through the chamber is a "seemingly impossible task." But he says he's taking a forceful stand against marriage equality because he hopes to pass along his bigoted views to his children and grandchildren. "This is what I believe," Guth adds.

Kentucky

safe2pee.pngA bill to regulate transgender students' bathroom usage (yay, small government!) passed out of committee in the Kentucky Senate this week. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, lawmakers green-lighted the measure just minutes after the senate's Republican president claimed he wasn't even sure whether or not it was on the agenda at all:

Without providing much notice, the Senate Education Committee on Monday night revisited a bill that would require transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their biological sex or to seek special accommodations, such as a unisex bathroom.

The bill failed to get out of committee Thursday because it did not have the necessary seven votes to be sent to the full Senate.

But the panel approved Senate Bill 76 on an 8-1 vote on Monday night, minutes after Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told reporters he didn't know whether the bill was on the committee's agenda.

The Republican-led Senate is expected to approve SB 76 and send it to the Democratic-controlled House.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo told the Herald-Leader that the House "would look at [SB 76]," so pro-fairness advocates may still have a chance of thwarting its passage.

UPDATE: The GOP-controlled Kentucky Senate passed the bill on Friday, February 27. The Kentucky Fairness Coalition reports via press release that the vote was 27-9:

"What an embarrassment the Kentucky Senate has made of our commonwealth today," shared Fairness Campaign director Chris Hartman. "The chamber has made headlines prioritizing a bill in its Education Committee that does nothing but further marginalize one of Kentucky's most vulnerable populations. The Senate has acted shamefully this week."

The Kentucky Fairness Coalition, including the ACLU of Kentucky, Fairness Campaign, Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, and Lexington Fairness has rescheduled its snowed-out Statewide Fairness Rally for Thursday, March 5, 11:30 a.m. in the Capitol Rotunda. Advocates will rally in support of Statewide Fairness Senate Bill 156 and House Bill 379 and against "Bathroom Bully Bill" Senate Bill 76.

North Carolina

The Tar Heel State's marriage discrimination amendment was invalidated in October and same-sex couples have been legally marrying there ever since. At least ten magistrates, whose responsibilities include performing civil marriages, have resigned from their jobs rather than comply with the law and perform them for same-sex couples.

Now, some North Carolina Republicans are trying to create a special right for these public officials to disobey the law. The News & Observer reports that a proposed law in the state Senate would allow anti-LGBT public officials to refuse to participate in same-sex marriages without having to step down from their jobs or face other disciplinary action from the state.

[T]hanks to a push from Phil Berger, the Eden Republican and president pro tem of the state Senate, more anti-gay marriage foolishness is afoot.

A Senate committee has approved a bill that would allow magistrates to refuse to perform marriages of same-sex couples if doing so violates their personal religious beliefs. The same refusal rights also would apply to registers of deeds, who handle paperwork for marriages.

"This is amateur hour at the General Assembly," the paper's editorial board writes, calling the measure a "silly maneuver" and a "petty action that could get expensive" if it's challenged in court. But that's never stopped our opponents before...

UPDATE: The measure passed the North Carolina Senate today (Wednesday) on a vote of 32-16. It now heads to the House.

Oklahoma

A bill from the notoriously homophobic GOP State Rep. Sally Kern that would prohibit the state from regulating dangerous and discredited "ex-gay" torture therapy has advanced out of committee, KTUL reports:

Without debate, the Children, Youth and Family Services Committee voted 5-3 and sent the bill to the full House.

In other states, bills have been filed to ban conversion therapy, a range of practices aimed at changing one's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

The bill sponsored by Oklahoma City Republican Rep. Sally Kern, who chairs the committee, is opposed by medical and psychological associations who say conversion therapy involves abusive tactics and is a dangerous and discredited practice. They say Kern's bill is the first of its kind in the U.S.

Other anti-LGBT bills currently pending in the Sooner State would block taxpayer funds from being used in the licensing of a same-sex marriage and remove judges who participate in them, allow businesses to refuse service "to any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, group or association" without consequence, require anyone who has undergone gender confirmation surgery to declare it when applying for a marriage license, and destroy the institution of civil marriage entirely in order to avoid allowing same-sex couples to participate in it (that one passed out of committee last week).

South Dakota

Two bills attacking transgender high school students are pending before the South Dakota Senate Education Committee.

The first, HB 1195, would overturn the South Dakota High School Activities Association's transgender policy, which allows for every student to participate in high school sports in a manner consistent with their gender identity and/or expression, "irrespective of the gender listed on the student's records" -- essentially, it would force most transgender students to misgender themselves if they want to participate in high school sports.

The second, HB 1161, would end the SDHSAA's ability to set its own policies on sexual orientation or gender identity, "other than the basic distinction between the male and female high school activities."

Republicans hold a 27-8 majority in the South Dakota Senate.

Texas

The Lone Star State is considering SB 343, an Arkansas-style bill that would block cities from enacting LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances. ThinkProgress reports that a whopping 7.5 million people live in cities where such protections currently exist (including Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Plano, San Antonio, and soon, Houston) -- but if SB 343 becomes law, those ordinances would likely be invalidated.

In addition, last week Republican State Rep. Debbie Riddle introduced two maliciously bigoted bills that target people who are transgender. The Dallas Voice reports:

HB 1747 makes it a crime for transgender Texans to use a public accommodation such as a bathroom or locker room if the gender marker does not correlate with their gender identity or expression. HB 1748 makes it a felony for business owners to repeatedly allow a person to use public accommodations if that person's gender identity does not match their chromosomes.

You're reading that right: Rep. Riddle is so full of spiteful transphobic bigotry that she wants to lock up business owners who allow trans people to use the bathrooms in accordance with their actual gender identity. Her malicious measures would put trans Texans at an even greater risk of violence than they already face. Shame on her.

West Virginia

west-virginia-map.jpgOn Monday, West Virginia lawmakers introduced HB 2881, a bill blocking cities and counties from expanding anti-discrimination protections beyond classes protected by state law -- which, as in Arkansas, would have the effect of blocking municipalities from enacting ordinances protecting LGBT people from discrimination.

David Badash of The New Civil Rights Movement reports that the measure has "strong support," and despite being introduced just two days ago, is scheduled to be voted out of committee today.

The measure would over rule local non-discrimination ordinances, including measures in place in the state capital of Charleston and the town of Thurmond -- the smallest town in the nation to enact a ban on employment, housing, and public accommodation discrimination against LGBT people (population: 5).

UPDATE: The measure passed out of committee Wednesday afternoon on a 16-8 vote.

Wyoming

In the Cowboy State, lawmakers in the Republican-dominated House killed a bill that would have made the state's anti-discrimination laws LGBT-inclusive. The Casper Star-Tribune reports:

The Wyoming House defeated a bill Tuesday that would have extended protections in the workplace, in schools and other aspects of life to gay and transgender people...

Senate File 115 failed, with 33 opposing it, 26 supporting it and one lawmaker excused.

The bill would have added "sexual orientation or gender identity" to a handful of state laws that protect people regardless of their race, creed, age, pregnancy, disability and other classes.

Same-sex couples have the freedom to marry in Wyoming, but the defeat of this bill means that the state will remain a place where an LGBT person can legally marry a same-sex spouse on Saturday and then be fired from their job for it on Monday.

The Human Rights Campaign recently released a report about the tsunami of anti-LGBT legislation cropping up across the country, titled "Chipping Away at Equality." Click here to check it out.

Bright Spots

Despite the outbreak of homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic bills, there are a couple of bright spots as well: in Colorado, a bill banning dangerous and discredited "ex-gay" therapy for minors advanced out of committee yesterday in the Democratically-controlled House. (It faces an uncertain future in the GOP-controlled Senate, however.)

And a former attorney general of Georgia is forcefully condemning efforts in his state to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination under the guise of "religious freedom." In a "scathing seven-page memo" obtained by BuzzFeed, the former top lawyer slams the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). He concludes:

This legislation is not about gay marriage, or contraception, or even so-called "religious freedom." It is more important than all of these, because it ultimately involves the rule of law. Regardless of whether one agrees with a particular policy, or if it offends one's religious sensibilities, the proposed RFRA is bad for all Georgians of good faith, or for that matter of any faith whatsoever. It is not just bad public policy; it is ill-conceived, unnecessary, mean-spirited, and deserving of a swift death in the General Assembly.

The name of this former attorney general? Mike Bowers.

Yes, that Mike Bowers -- the longtime opponent of LGBT rights who defended Georgia's sodomy law in the infamous 1986 Supreme Court case that bears his name, Bowers v. Hardwick. The Bowers decision wasn't overturned until 2003 in the Lawrence v. Texas case. According to Project Q Atlanta, while Bowers declined to give his specific positions on marriage and workplace equality, he says he's "learning and changing" on LGBT rights and is "a much nicer guy than [he] used to be."

"Quit Squirming" cartoon by artist Mike Ritter of the GA Voice.

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