Texas Evangelical Christians Legislate Hate
Senate bill declares open season on queer people
A new front blazed to life in the American culture war last week. Severe casualties are expected.
An ER doctor at a hospital in Texas refused to treat a transgender woman because she wasn’t wearing pants. Now the Texas Senate is working to protect that doctor and other licensed professionals from the legal consequences of discrimination.
The list includes doctors, lawyers, teachers, counselors, plumbers, and even barbers. If legislators get their way, anyone with an occupational license in Texas will be able to withhold services from anyone based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Nobody’s being coy about what that means. Evangelical Christians like that ER doctor are demanding the right to refuse service to queer people. That’s bad enough, but the vague wording of the proposed law opens up the door to discrimination against other minorities, including members of minority religions like Muslims and Jews.
Sincerely held religious beliefs —
That’s the new catch phrase among homophobes who want to exclude LGBTQ people from civic life or to deny them basic civil and human rights. The phrase has become a dog whistle for bigotry.
Chillingly, the Trump Administration already takes the position that physicians may cite religious beliefs to turn away patients.
What is a “sincerely held religious belief,” anyway? Oddly, nobody knows. According to esteemed American constitutional scholar Sanford Levinson, writing for UT News, the phrase has no commonly accepted definition, and has proven all but legally meaningless. The US Supreme Court picks and chooses among beliefs to protect and beliefs to reject — with no observable correlation to sincerity.
Levinson notes that instead of sincerity, courts tend to protect religious beliefs based on popularity:
Ultimately, we rely far more on general cultural norms as to what we wish to tolerate at a given time. Those who support a baker’s refusal to sell a cake to be used in a same-sex marriage are unlikely to be sympathetic if the same baker, quoting another passage of Scripture, refuses to sell a cake to an interracial couple.
Even so, Evangelical Christians are rallying around sincerely held religious beliefs to justify blatant discrimination against LGBTQ people. They claim their religion mandates discrimination and that if they were forced to associate with or provide services to LGBTQ people, that their free exercise of religion would be unduly burdened.
Today, Texas is leading the charge to discriminate —
State Senator Charles Perry, the bill’s author, said its provisions would allow anyone called before a state licensure board to cite sincere religious belief as a defense against losing their license.
Ironically, Perry answered objections to the broad implications of the law by citing the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race and which supersedes Texas law. “The bill would do nothing to overturn protections offered by federal law or any other state law,” Perry said. “Your skin color is still protected. It has been and will be and should be.”
Why did I say ironic?
Perry clearly understands that without federal protections, his bill would allow any licensed professional in Texas to discriminate against people of color by citing religion.
He obviously doesn’t care that it’s just as morally wrong to discriminate against LGBTQ people by citing religion.
What will the effect be in Texas?
Trinity University professor Amy Stone, in an interview with the Dallas Observer, says a disproportionate number of LGBTQ Texans already face obstacles to healthcare. She recently led a research project that found that LGBTQ Texans struggle with access to healthcare. In 42 percent of cases she looked at, LGBTQ people told researchers they had trouble finding competent, reliable healthcare providers.
Making it even easier for doctors to refuse care based on sexual orientation and gender identity will only make things worse, despite the bill’s exception that mandates care in life-or-death settings.
No federal backstops exist to protect LGBTQ Texans. Federal civil rights law don’t yet include gender identity or sexual orientation, with certain contested exceptions. Chillingly, the Trump Administration already takes the position that physicians may cite religious beliefs to turn away patients.
That’s why we must fight for the federal LGBT Equality Act —
In the meantime, experts think the new Texas law has a very good chance of passing. LGBTQ Texans will suffer not just from reduced access to medical care, but from discrimination in just about any common life pursuit. Does an electrician in an isolated rural county object to same-sex couples? Better hope your power doesn’t go out!
Need a haircut? Better hope your barber doesn’t object to effeminate gay men or trans men who have feminine appearances. Toilet stopped up in your same-sex-parent household? Learn how to snake your own drains. Call your counselor or school ahead of time to make sure you’re welcome.
Sound dystopian? Unbelievable? Can’t happen in America?
Senator Perry just declared open season on queer people —
The vote wasn’t even close at 19–12. The Senate must pass the bill once more before it goes to the House, which analysts see as a foregone conclusion. Will it pass the House?
My friends in Austin tell me the fight might be a little tougher, but with Republicans in the majority 83–67, the bill will very likely become law, and absent extraordinary pressure, the governor will sign it.
Democratic state senators are objecting on religious grounds—
- Senator Royce West noted in debate that “the practice of faith has been tied to a lot of hideous practices” — like prohibiting interracial marriages. He said that “The reality is that a lot of people have done things that were not consistent with being a Christian” while claiming religious motivation.
Activists are reaching into their bags of tricks—
- Angela Hale, a spokesperson for Equality Texas, told Metro Weekly that the LGBTQ rights group has designated SB 17 as “the No, 1 threat to the LGBTQ community in Texas this year,” and, as such, has been lobbying lawmakers to stop the bill from passing the House, and leveraging the power of major corporations like Amazon and Google, who have been sending disapproving signals to Texas lawmakers.
Local religious leaders are speaking up —
- Revered William Knight of the Metropolitan Community Church of San Antonio is on the record saying that “Love does not withhold care for those in need because of a difference in belief.”
- Distinguished educator Rabbi Nancy Kasten, currently a co-chair of Faith Forward Dallas, said that religious beliefs “should never be confused with permission to use faith as a weapon against those who do not share those beliefs.”
But even with all the objections, a sort of imitation Jim Crow, queer style, is about to be unleashed in the “Friendship State,” where friendliness is being redefined in coming weeks to apply mostly or only to straight, cisgender Evangelical Protestant Christians.
Don’t look for any federal help. The Justice Department is all-in with Trump’s alliance with Evangelical Christianity. He must have Evangelical votes to win the 2020 election, all his people know it, and he’s made clear he’ll deliver.
This is how it happens, people —
This is how politicians scapegoat minority groups to gain and hold power. This is how the descent to the persecution and oppression of true fascism begins.
Will we oust Trump in 2020 and put our nation back on a course to decency and respect for minorities? Or will he win again and continue to pander to the dark forces of Evangelical Christianity?
It’s an open question.
I know one thing. If I lived in rural or small town Texas right now, I’d be scrambling to get out. I wouldn’t feel safe.
Hell, I DON’T feel safe, and I live thousands of miles from Texas.
This is real, people. One of the biggest states of the Union is about to turn LGBTQ people into official second-class citizens, and there’s almost nothing anyone can do about it.
Scared yet? You’d better be ready to do everything in your power to evict Trump in 2020. Four more years of him will bring in much worse than what’s happening in Texas right now.