“States Rights” and “Religious Beliefs” have long served as the allied battle cry to deny people’s rights.
Through arduous and highly contested debates, the framers of our great Constitution endeavored to strike a prudent balance of powers, not only between the three branches of the federal government, but they also endeavored to lay the blue print for a system that would grant to the states that which they did not specifically accord to the centralized national government. Numerous Constitutional amendments and judicial decisions over the years have increasingly fine-tuned this system in ways and over issues the original framers could not have even imagined.
Over our history, individuals and entire political parties have broadcast clarion calls delivered from soap boxes and mountain tops to newspaper editorial pages for increased rights of the states to decide issues they see fit, even when these contrast significantly from Congressional legislation and judicial decisions.
Political operatives have cried “states’ rights” often utilizing so-called “religious” justifications over issues of slavery, interracial marriage, racial segregation, women’s enfranchisement and the rights of women to control their bodies, public schooling, rights to education and other services for people with disabilities, immigration status, voting rights, and many other areas of public policy.
“States Rights” and “Religious Beliefs” have long served as the allied battle cry as well for state legislators to deny lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* (LGBT) people the rights and privileges summarily granted to their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. Today, no national laws require all states to protect residents from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, counseling, and other areas based on sexual identity and gender identity and expression.
Currently only 22 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have passed non-discrimination laws in housing, for example, protecting people’s rights based on sexual orientation, and 19 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, on the basis of gender identity and expression.
States that prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Prohibits housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity Prohibits housing discrimination based on sexual orientation only Does not factor sexual orientation or gender identity.
An expanding movement gaining support in State Houses around this nation, as exemplified through Mississippi’s new “religious freedom” law, permits individuals and institutions to refuse service based on their “religious beliefs” to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* people and members of all other groups they consider nonconformists to their judgments and precepts. And North Carolina’s HB 2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, includes a section that prohibits trans* people the ability to enter a restroom facility that conforms to their gender identity and expression, but differs from the sex assigned to them on their birth certificate.
“States Rights” on Foundation of “Religious Freedom”
For the purpose of situating the most recent incarnation of the “states’ rights” based on “religious freedom” argument to deny LGBT people their civil and human rights, I include a representative sample of significant “leaders” who employed these arguments to promote their own oppressive agendas.
On Slavery and Race:
Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy:
“[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.”
Judge Leon M. Bazile, in convicting Richard Perry Loving (a white man) & Mildred Delores Jeeter (a black woman) for marrying in Virginia in 1958 for violating that state’s
“Act to Preserve Racial Integrity, 1924”:
“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.”
Martin Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies (1526):
“…For us Christians they stand as a terrifying example of God’s wrath….These poisonous envenomed worms should be drafted into forced labor. The young and strong Jews and Jewesses should be given the flail, the ax, the hoe, the spade, the distaff, and the spindle and let them earn their bread by the sweat of their noses. As a last resort, they should simply be kicked out for all time.”
Adolph Hitler in his book Mein Kampf:
“Today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord” (p. 65).
Robert Lewis Dabney, U.S. Christian theologian, Southern Presbyterian pastor, on women’s suffrage:
“What then, in the next place, will be the effect of this fundamental change when it shall be established? The obvious answer is, that it will destroy Christianity and civilization in America…There is a Satanic ingenuity in these Radical measures which secures the infection of the reluctant dissentients as surely as of the hot advocates….Radical women will vote, and vote wrong.…What those influences will be may be learned by every one who reverences the Christian Scriptures, from this fact, that the theory of “Women’s Rights” is sheer infidelity.”
Reverend Pat Robertson:
“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”
On Trans* Identities:
The Catholic Vatican hierarchy recently fenced off Alex Salinas, a 21-year-old transman from Cadiz, Spain, by informing him that it had denied his request to become the godparent of his nephew because being transgender is incongruent with Catholic teaching.
According to the Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, its doctrine-enforcing agency:
Transgender status “reveals in a public way an attitude opposite to the moral imperative of solving the problem of sexual identity according to the truth of one’s own sexuality. Therefore it is evident that this person does not possess the requirement of leading a life according to the faith and in the position of godfather and is therefore unable to be admitted to the position of godfather or godmother.”
Anti-LGBT Equality under the Law:
So what can we infer from those religions that justify such discriminatory treatment of other human beings? In terms of LGBT equality, I simply cannot comprehend the clear and undeniable contradiction between a religion’s expressed claims, in various forms, to love one’s neighbor as oneself, and how it is better to give than to receive, combined for example, with a baker’s refusal to bake a confectionery delight; a photographer’s refusal to preserve joyous moments; a caterer’s refusal to cook the pleasures of delectable sustenance; a florist’s refusal to arrange the beauties from the garden; a jeweler’s refusal of a band connecting human souls; a realtor’s refusal to show shelters signifying new chapters in one’s book of time, or a landlord’s refusal to rent; a shop owner’s refusal to sell the common and special objects supporting and enhancing life; a restauranteur’s refusal to serve anyone a time away from the kitchen, an employer’s refusal to hire a fully qualified and committed employee, all these based solely on peoples social identities.
Therefore, we must see the “states’ rights” argument for what it really is: “States Rights to Discriminate.” And we must challenge the long-standing and deeply-held biases within some denominations that employ “religious” justifications that allow them the “religious freedom” to oppress.
Photo Credit: Getty Images