Posts Tagged ‘discrimination

25
Feb
14

Arizona’s SB1062 Would Have Dangerous Consequences, Faces Backlash or “The Arizona GOP continues to get things very, very wrong.”

The state of Arizona, or at least its legislature, is once again on the anti-queer bandwagon. After last year’s embarrassing fiasco where they attempted to legislate where trans people are allowed to void their bladders, one might have hoped they had learned their lesson. But, the GOP being who it is, they’ve opted to turn their queerphobia up to eleven with their latest jab at the LGBTQ community, SB1062.

SB1062, an amendment to the state’s current statutes on “the free exercise of religion,” codifies a person or company’s right to refuse service to anyone on the basis of their religion without fear of reprisal from government agencies and regardless of any local ordinances to the contrary. It appears to stem from a string of recent incidents around the country where businesses have been sanctioned for refusing service to queer individuals. It’s been approved by both chambers of the Arizona legislature, and it current awaits a signature from GOP Gov. Jan Brewer, who has given little indication of her position on the legislation.

 Previously, this statute granted this right to refuse service based upon religious objection only to any “religious assembly or institution”, but the revised statute would read:

“Person” includes a religious assembly or institution ANY INDIVIDUAL, ASSOCIATION, PARTNERSHIP, CORPORATION, CHURCH, RELIGIOUS ASSEMBLY OR INSTITUTION, ESTATE, TRUST, FOUNDATION OR OTHER LEGAL ENTITY.

This grants the ability of essentially organization, business, or person to access the particular protections of this statute (because really, there aren’t many things that don’t fall into those categories. The particulars of the statute read as such:

41-1493.01. Free exercise of religion protected; definition

4 A. Free exercise of religion is a fundamental right that applies in this state even if laws, rules or other government actions are facially neutral.

7 B. Except as provided in subsection C of this section, state action shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.

The key portion of that pile of legalese is “even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” Rules of general applicability is a term that stems from a landmark Supreme Court case involving the free exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment, known as Employment Division, Department of Human Resources vs Smith. In it, the Court ruled that a person could not claim exception from a law based upon one’s religious beliefs if the law created rules that were of “general applicability”, that is-that they weren’t particularly targeted to religion or specific religious groups. This means that, as a general rule, people cannot claim exemption from things like employment, housing, or healthcare non-discrimination laws simply because of their particular religious beliefs. However, the proposed Arizona law would specifically enshrine the right of people within that state to ignore essentially ANY state law if they can ground it in their particular religious convictions.

So, what are the implications of a law like this? It means a corporation can adopt a particular religious doctrine and use it to deny service to LGBT individuals. It means religious hospitals can refuse to treat LGBT people. It means perfectly legal “No Gays Allowed” signs on businesses owned by anti-queer religious people. It means pharmacies being able to legally refuse to fill HIV meds, birth control, emergency contraception, and hormones for trans people if the pharmacy or it’s owners have specific religious views.  It could be interpreted to mean that police officers wouldn’t be required to assist LGBT individuals if their personal religious beliefs would be violated in doing so. It would absolutely mean that religious doctors or other healthcare professionals could deny life-saving pregnancy termination procedures to women if it violates their religious beliefs. Given that many racial hate groups use religion to justify their racism, it could mean that companies or organizations could use this law to refuse service to racial minorities Taken to extremes, it could even be used as a potential defense in violent hate crimes (after all, the Bible makes clear that homosexuality [along with lots of other things] is punishable by death), or as a justification for legalized spousal rape or beating (since there’s justification for both in the Bible).

Not surprisingly, the bill has received a huge amount of backlash from everything from feminist and LGBT activists concerned about how the law will be used, to business owners who are concerned that it will have wide reaching effects of tourism in Arizona (a large force in their economy). George Takei wrote a length missive calling for a boycott of Arizona if the bill is signed, and that call has been echoed loudly in the LGBT community. The mayors of Arizona’s largest cities, both of their sitting Senators, and a large contingent of their members of Congress have called of Gov. Brewer to veto the bill. Leaders of the state’s largest business groups wrote to Brewer imploring veto, concerned about opening businesses to potential litigation and having the state branded an unfriendly place for visitors. And in just the last few days, even three member of the state legislature who voted in favor of the bill have come forward urging a veto on the measure, calling passage of the measure a “mistake.’

In the wake of this much pressure, it seems somewhat unlikely that Gov. Brewer would be willing to sign the legislation into law. However, the fact that the bill hit the governor’s desk at all is a very disturbing reminder of to just what lengths the GOP is willing to go to attack the LGBT community. Unfortunately, this is also far from an isolated incident. Similar bills attempting to enshrine the legal right to discriminate using a smoke-screen of religious liberty have been introduced in Ohio ,Idaho, Mississippi, and several other states recently, though none have yet progressed as far as the legislation in Arizona.

Despite the progress made in areas like marriage equality, the fight for equal rights and equal protections for LGBT individuals is FAR from over, and it appears that this new round of “religious objection” legislation represents the Republicans’ next volley in the pushback against the progress that has been made in the movement for equality for queer people.

 

 (Author’s note:  This is a significant simplification of the case law here, interpreted and explained by a scientist, not a lawyer.)

29
Jan
14

Obama’s State of the Union Address Ignores ENDA (and more), or “Remember when the President stood up for trans rights in front of Congress? Yeah, me neither.”

In tonight’s State of the Union address, President Obama talked extensively about jobs and the economy. He discussed immigration reform. He touted the success of the Affordable Care Act. He devoted several minutes to discussing current foreign policy situations. He touched on education, tax reforms, and pressed for an increase in the federal minimum wage. Sadly, he left a number of critical issues completely untouched- chief among them the concerns of the LGBT community and the languishing of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, commonly known as ENDA.

Oh sure, he gave the minimum of lip service to our existence in his brief mentions of “marriage equality” and later his hat-tip to “sexual orientation” in his statement about equality in regards to the upcoming Olympic games in Sochi. Meanwhile, in 29 states it remains perfectly legal to fire (or refuse to hire) someone because they’re gay, lesbian or transgender. 33 states offer no protections to transgender workers. According to the most recent report from the National Center for Transgender Equality, 90% of transgender workers have experienced some form of harassment. Nearly half (47%) had been fired, had not been hired, or had missed out on a promotion because they are trans, including 26% who had been actually lost their jobs. Because of the persistent discrimination and transphobia in the US, losing our jobs has even more catastrophic effect than it does for the straight, cis population, leading to four times the rate of extreme poverty, and four times the rate of homeless (1 in 5 trans people will be homeless at some point in our lives). Most heartbreaking of all, 41% of trans people will attempt suicide at some point in their lives, more than 25 times the risk of the general population.

These bleak facts stem for a systemic, entrenched anti-trans bias within the entirety of the US economic system, from education to the workforce. While we have lots of work to do to disassemble this bias, comprehensive workplace protections for transgender individuals (and indeed, all LGBT people) would provide a large measure of stability and would represent a huge leap forward in trans rights. Congress has an excellent opportunity to enact such protections, though S. 815, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) of 2013. The proposal passed the Senate in November 64-32, including three yes votes from Republicans. While Congress has previously considered similar bills, this marks the first time such a bill containing protections for trans people has gained final passage in a chamber of Congress. All indications are that- if allowed to come to a vote on the House floor- the bill would pass, and President Obama has indicated that he would sign it. So what’s keeping this critical legislation from passing? The unwillingness of Speaker John Boehner to allow a vote, as he views it as “unnecessary” (I’d be willing to bed the 1 in 4 trans people who’ve been fired would handily disagree). Unfortunately, the rules of the House make it nearly impossible to circumvent the Speaker’s block on the vote.

So, back to Obama’s State of the Union Address. President Obama prodded the members of Congress towards action on a number of issues, including extending unemployment benefits, increasing the federal minimum wage, closing tax loopholes, and funding preschool education. Unfortunately, he entirely failed to prod Congress on the final passage of ENDA. Job protections for LGBT people are not a particularly controversial topic for the public at large. A poll by the Center for American Progress back in 2011 demonstrated that nearly 3 of 4 Americans support workplace protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, including a majority of Republicans. More troubling is that 90% believe these protections already exist. So, we have a policy that the majority of Americans- and a majority of Congress- supports (indeed that most think already exists) that won’t become law because of one single legislator’s objections. The State of the Union seemed like the perfect opportunity to press for action on such an item. Mr Obama could have very publicly called on Boehner to allow such a vote (either directly, or indirectly). The President could have promised to sign an executive order to require protections for LGBT people in all federal contractors as an additional pressure, much as he did with the federal contractors and minimum wage. President Obama’s press office included such items in his pre-address “fact sheet”, but that’s a far cry from a expression of public support in a major address. When the President took the podium, all we heard was a deafening silence on one of the most critical issues facing us today.

Some might argue that it’s a fairly “minor issue”, affecting a small number of Americans, and not worthy of the President’s limited speech time. However, as a comparison, roughly 1.6 million people recently lost their unemployment benefits, about 0.5% of the population by my estimate. LGBT identified folks make up about 4% of the US population by current estimates, more than 8 times as many who would benefit from the far-more controversial unemployment extension. However, that issue was found worthy of mentioning at length in his speech. Returning to the minimum-wage issue for a moment, about the same number (1.6 million) of individuals currently make minimum wage (per Bureau of Labor Statistics)  as recently lost unemployment checks. And yet, raising the federal minimum wage was a key issue in Obama’s address. Don’t misunderstand me, I believe these are both very important and worthwhile issues and they certainly warranted being discussed in the President’s speech. But in sheer numbers, the passage of ENDA impacts a greater number of people, and it’s nonsensical to argue that we’re comparatively insignificant minority.

I could take the President to task for many oversights in his address, from drug policy to criminal justice to reproductive rights to proper funding for the NIH. However, his failure to press for action for such basic protections that could do so much to improve the lives of trans (and other LGBT) individuals is absolutely inexcusable, particular given that that ENDA enjoys wide support with Americans and has functionally zero fiscal implications. If this version of ENDA dies in the House without reaching the President’s desk, it will represent an enormous missed opportunity to provide trans and queer people with something most have never had- a chance to live their lives without fear of losing their livelihoods and incomes simply for being who they are. The simple fact is, Mr Obama had the opportunity to take a groundbreaking step in going to bat for the LGBT population in his address (and, in doing so, keep a key campaign promise). However, as has become so common a theme in his administration, President Obama left queer and transgender Americans out in the cold.




A blog about nerdy things, feminist thoughts, and queer/trans life. It's full of rants, opinions, and personal stories. I don't claim to speak for absolutely anyone but myself. Read at your own risk.

Follow me on Twitter

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,936 other followers

Follow Trans.Nerd.Feminist on WordPress.com