GOPocrisy, LGBT, RFRA — June 2, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Will the Michigan GOP sacrifice LGBT civil rights on the altar of “deeply held religious beliefs”?


Last week, Governor Snyder pretended that he’s suddenly concerned with adding protections for LGBT folks to our state’s civil rights law, the Elliott-Larsen Act. As I have already said, this is a sham. Governor Snyder’s own words show how squishy his “support” is:

“I’m encouraging them to say there’s been a lot of dialog and discussion on this. It’s been healthy in the public and I think it could be an appropriate topic for the legislators to take up. I would appreciate that.


But the most troubling aspect of the Michigan GOP’s sudden interest in protecting the civil rights of the LGBT community in an election year isn’t how squishy it is but that it’s likely to be trumped by concern for the “deeply held religious beliefs” of our states bigots. Here’s Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger just last week:

I look forward to working together to make sure that we protect people so that they are not discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Nor should they be discriminated against because of their deeply held religious beliefs. So this will once again be about finding that balance so that Michigan citizens are respected and protected.

The “deeply held religious beliefs” that Speaker Bolger is referring to are the beliefs that homophobic bigots should be allowed to continue discriminating against LGBT people because of their religion. This, too, is a sham; one that follows the same pattern that Michigan Republicans initially took when anti-bullying legislation was being discussed three years ago. The Senate passed a version of the law that quickly became known as the License to Bully bill. It was called that because it exempted bullying that was done as a consequence of “deeply held religious beliefs”. Fortunately, the national outrage at the legislation that was essentially primer on how to use your “deeply held religious beliefs” to avoid being punished for bullying LGBT kids. At the time, I called it “one of the sickest and most vile acts of irony yet seen in Michigan under the current Republican regime”. I stand by that characterization.

Defining civil rights protections for the LGBT community based on this same vile model will put it into the same category as the License to Bully bill.

No other group protected by the Elliott-Larsen act is exempted due to their “deeply held religious beliefs”. You can’t use religion to excuse discrimination against people based on their religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, or marital status. However, it appears that, if Speaker Bolger gets his way, the LGBT community will be singled out once again to be discriminated against for this reason.

This isn’t the first time this has come up, by the way. Speaker Bolger was making the same argument almost exactly a year ago:

Bolger tread carefully around the issue of discrimination. He hopes to find a solution that will satisfy both religious groups and gay and lesbian activists.

“We shouldn’t discriminate against people. At the same point, we ought to respect people who have deeply held religious beliefs, and we shouldn’t discriminate against them, and we shouldn’t force them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs,” he said. “That’s the push-pull. I’m interested in exploring, how can we respect both?”

So far, no legislation has been introduced. We’ll have to wait to see if Republicans use this “out” to please their religious conservative supporters. If they do, it will be one more vile act of irony done to try to deceive people in a election year into believing that this is a kinder and gentler Republican party.

All you have to do is look at their actions over the past three years to know that’s not the case at all and we must hold them accountable.

Let’s finish with this letter on the topic of “deeply held religious beliefs” from the inestimable George Takai. It was written as an open letter to Arizona when they were considering what came to be known as the “Turn Away the Gay bill”:

Dear Arizona,

Congratulations. You are now the first state actually to pass a bill permitting businesses–even those open to the public–to refuse to provide service to LGBT people based on an individual’s “sincerely held religious belief.” This “turn away the gay” bill enshrines discrimination into the law. Your taxi drivers can refuse to carry us. Your hotels can refuse to house us. And your restaurants can refuse to serve us.

Kansas tried to pass a similar law, but had the good sense to not let it come up for a vote. The quashing came only after the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and other traditional conservative groups came out strongly against the bill.

But not you, Arizona. You’re willing to ostracize and marginalize LGBT people to score political points with the extreme right of the Republican Party. You say this bill protects “religious freedom,” but no one is fooled. When I was younger, people used “God’s Will” as a reason to keep the races separate, too. Make no mistake, this is the new segregation, yours is a Jim Crow law, and you are about to make yourself ground zero.

This bill also saddens me deeply. Brad and I have strong ties to Arizona. Brad was born in Phoenix, and we vacation in Show Low. We have close friends and relatives in the state and spend weeks there annually. We even attended the Fourth of July Parade in Show Low in 2012, looking like a pair of Arizona ranchers.

The law is breathtaking in its scope. It gives bigotry against us gays and lesbians a powerful and unprecedented weapon. But your mean-spirited representatives and senators know this. They also know that it is going to be struck down eventually by the courts. But they passed it anyway, just to make their hateful opinion of us crystal clear.

So let me make mine just as clear. If your Governor Jan Brewer signs this repugnant bill into law, make no mistake. We will not come. We will not spend. And we will urge everyone we know–from large corporations to small families on vacation–to boycott. Because you don’t deserve our dollars. Not one red cent.

And maybe you just never learn. In 1989, you voted down recognition of the Martin Luther King holiday, and as a result, conventions and tourists boycotted the state, and the NFL moved the Superbowl to Pasadena. That was a $500 million mistake.

So if our appeals to equality, fairness, and our basic right to live in a civil society without doors being slammed in our face for being who we are don’t move you, I’ll bet a big hit to your pocketbook and state coffers will.

George Takei

[CC LGBT graphic: The Limpa-Vias Blog]