A pall hung over me last week.
As Pride celebrations were getting underway across the country, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple—Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig—on the grounds of religious freedom, in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In a 7-2 decision, the justices argued that the commission in their home state had exhibited hostility toward religion in its treatment of the case.
While the justices did not blatantly grant a license to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans, I, like so many in our community, was hoping the case would render once and for all a cease-and-desist order, thus resolving the God-versus-gay rights dispute for those who want to codify discrimination against us under the guise of religious freedom.
Furthermore, as the justices left it open whether the decision will influence the business interactions of other opponents of same-sex marriages in the wedding industry—say, photographers, florists, wedding planners, venues, honeymoon resorts, to name a few—Justice Kennedy’s ruling will no doubt keep this debate going.
“It is very unfortunate that this ruling reinforces the ‘God vs. gay’ narrative that has pervaded our discourse and policy-making,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said in a statement. “Many LGBTQI people and others who are working towards full equality in our country are people of deep faith and know that our identities are sacred gifts.”
The Phillips win, in my opinion, is a colossal blow to civil rights gains and state nondiscrimination laws, and leaves room for the denial of services to LGBTQ Americans based on a business owner’s religious beliefs. For example, in December 2017, President Trump’s solicitor general, Noel Francisco, suggested that these businesses hang anti-LGBTQ placards saying things like, “No Gays Allowed,” warning us to stay away. When White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to clarify the President’s position on the matter, she responded that the president “certainly supports religious liberty … I believe that would include that.”
As a black lesbian living in the US during this Trump administration, I now feel like I am unquestionably moving into a new Jim Crow era reestablishing discriminatory laws targeting LGBTQ Americans. I grew up knowing about racist placards that read things like, “Colored Water Fountain,” “Waiting Room for Colored Only,” and “We Serve Whites Only,” to name a few.
In Jim Crow, America’s restrooms were a hot-button issue, as they are today, and a battleground for equal treatment. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on national origin, race, hue, gender, and religion. The law mandated desegregation of all public accommodations, including bathrooms. The Obama administration expanded the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect LGBTQ Americans, but Trump’s administration revoked federal guidelines permitting transgender students from using “gender-appropriate facilities,” which aligned with their gender identity.
Face it, folks, since Trump has taken office there has been an erosion of LGBTQ rights under the guise of religious liberty. Transgender Americans being denied access to public lavatories is eerily reminiscent of the country’s era of denying African-Americans access to lunch counters, water fountains, libraries, gas stations, theaters, and restrooms, to name a few. Last June, Trump paid tribute to the 49 LGBTQ victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre but failed to issue a proclamation for Pride Month. This year, the Trump administration repeated the insult.
What’s worse, in a Trumped-up Supreme Court, there is talk among Christian evangelicals of walking back Obergefell v. Hodges, the historic SCOTUS ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Many conservatives argue this is not a repudiation on same-sex marriage, but rather a principled stance to fight for free expression unfettered by the tyranny of political correctness.
“We at Cato have long supported both religious liberty and gay rights, insofar as the agenda of each is consistent with the liberty of unlimited constitutional government,” said Roger Pilon, founding director of the Cato Center for Constitutional Studies. “But we draw the line when same-sex couples turn around and use government to force venues against their religious beliefs to participate in same-sex ceremonies, as happens too often today.”
Meanwhile, Pilon states there’s no room to ensure that LGBTQs will not be discriminated against because of who we are and who we love.
Democracy can only begin when those at the margin can experience what others take for granted. On that front, I’m not confident that this administration has our backs.
Rev. Irene Monroe can be heard on the podcast and standing Boston Public Radio segment ALL REV’D UP on WGBH (89.7 FM). Monroe’s syndicated religion columns appear and the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail. She is a s a Visiting Researcher in the Religion and Conflict Transformation Program at Boston University School of Theology.