If you believe RedState founder and talk-radio host Erick Erickson, putting that “right” into state law is so important that unless they get their way, conservative legislators are ready to go “cataclysmic” and bring the 2015 state General Assembly into total lockdown — refusing to pass a budget, refusing to deal with transportation, refusing to pass the governor’s “opportunity school district” legislation, refusing to do pretty much anything.
As Erickson puts it, “If S.B. 129 does not get a vote, without amendment, on the House floor, war is going to break out in the General Assembly.”
That phrase “without amendment” is critical, because it gets to the core of the issue. Erickson and his fellow conservatives are bitterly opposed to amending S.B. 129, the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” to clarify that its provisions would not legalize discrimination. As they see it, such an amendment would gut the legislation. And as Alex Rowell points out on Twitter, when anti-discrimination language is said to gut a bill, you can be pretty sure that discrimination is what the bill is all about.
To give you some further idea of the immense magnitude of the issues at stake, Erickson lays it out clearly:
“Boys are going to be able to use the girls’ bathroom in Georgia.
Churches in Georgia will be denied building permits unless they build unisex bathrooms for the transgendered.
I’m not exaggerating. …You will see church pastors subpoenaed, church buildings harassed, and Christians persecuted.”
You just can’t make things like that up. Or at least I can’t. Erickson seems to have a much better talent for it.
The bathroom issue notwithstanding, I do agree that the issues at stake are far from trivial. Those on both sides of the debate are operating on the shared assumption that thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, gay marriage will become legal in this state in the not too distant future, putting gay Georgians on a more equal if still slippery footing with their heterosexual neighbors. And once that happens, the battlefield changes.
For example, if you are an employer opposed to gay marriage, would you be able to extend health insurance and other employee benefits to straight married couples, while denying those same benefits to legally married gay couples? Would you be able to refuse to rent or even sell a home to a gay couple, as an expression of your personal disapproval?
For those who define their own personal liberty by how much freedom they have to discriminate against others, “religious liberty” offers a tempting potential refuge.
Erickson’s suggestion about church bathrooms aside, existing law and constitutional precedent already give religious organizations the clear right to practice their faith as they see fit, even if their actions might be defined as “discriminatory” in a secular setting. Churches have every right to discriminate on the basis of race and gender — for example by barring women from leadership roles — in ways that have long been illegal in the secular world, and nobody is attempting to infringe on that right.
However, this proposed law represents an effort to extend that protection beyond religious organizations to the worlds of commerce, government and daily human interactions. And the scorched-earth vehemence of its proponents is more than enough reason to be extremely wary of its impact.