Following Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s veto of a bill aimed at allowing businesses and service providers to refuse to serve LGBT people, it’s time for those of us pushing back on efforts to misuse religious liberty as a license to discriminate to realize that the momentum is on our side.
First, some background. As marriage for same-sex couples becomes a reality in more states, the go-to “Plan B” for opponents of LGBT equality has been to support measures that purport to protect religious liberty, but really exist to give a license to discriminate against LGBT people. In this distortion of religious liberty, a failure to provide employers and service providers with special rights to break non-discrimination laws somehow represents an attack on religious freedom.
This strategy is not new or unique to LGBT people. It is something that opponents of civil rights — for African-Americans, women, and others — have repeatedly turned to throughout history, particularly when it becomes clear they can no longer defeat, outright, the underlying civil rights gains of a particular movement. These efforts become a way to undermine and rollback gains, creating a kind of “Swiss cheese” equality. Sure the rights exist, but with a lot of holes.