Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Indiana Gov. Reacts to National Pressure

Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana has received unbelievable backlash for signing into law a "religious freedom" bill that grants persons, businesses, and affiliations freedom from government intervention that "substantially burdens" the entity's deeply-held religious beliefs. There are large businesses that are shutting down major projects, states and companies implementing boycotts to Indiana, and even a band performance cancelling as a result of the law.

Supporters of the bill say it was never intended to allow for discrimination against gay people, and that it was modeled after the federal "Religious Freedom Restoration Act". It was meant to be a bill of inclusion. But many of the participants in the signing of the bill are outspoken opponents of LGBT people, and it serves as quite a coincidence that this law is coming in to play only after national wins for LGBT cases, including the one in review by the US Supreme Court that includes Indiana. It is especially suspect since religious people and institutions already have countless protections nationally and in the states.

One can't help but think that conservatives are attempting to not go down without a fight. That it is a desperate attempt to undermine the social progress that so many have worked for.

Arkansas is entertaining a similar, yet more exclusive bill. Politicians have stated their support and intent to keep the language the same with no clarifications to avoid discrimination. If it needs attention, they will "look at it in the next session in two years."

Groups have protested both sides of the issue, especially in Indianapolis, the state capitol. Religions feel they are being picked on--forced to accept what they disagree with. LGBT people are fighting simply for equality and equal protections, especially from religious bigotry.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Indiana to Clarify 'Religious Freedom' Law

The backlash of Indiana's passed law to prevent government from getting involved in situations where discrimination in the name of "deeply held religious beliefs" occurs has already hit the state. Businesses and civil rights groups have been withdrawing investments and promoting boycotting of the state. Although the language does not explicitly target LGBT people, there is no law in the state protecting them from discrimination, either.

The state and supporters of the law say it mirrors existing federal religious protections. They claim that it doesn't pick on gays. But opponents claim it does open the door to refuse gays, as well as anyone really, in the name of religion.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

California Lawyer Proposes Death to Gays Ballot Measure

LGBT flags San Francisco City Hall

Although it will not pass, either due to California Supreme Court intervention, not enough signatures, or not voted in by citizens, it is disturbing that a lawyer thinks its appropriate to initiate such proposals.

Several ballot measures are proposed each year, up in the hundreds recently. But only a few get the needed signatures.

The measure allows for legal government executions for any person that touches the genitals of someone of the same gender for pleasure. It allows citizens to execute gays on their own if the government takes too long. It prevents gay Supreme Court members from striking down the measure. It prevents citizens from promoting rights for gay people if the group contains minors. It requires the law to be posted in public classrooms.

It all sounds loony, but this lawyer and his "Sodomite Repression Act" are serious. Orange County attorney Matt McLaughlin paid the mere $200 to start the process, where CA Attorney General must title and summarize the law. State legislatures are attempting to get the California Bar to disbar Mr. McLaughlin for not adhering to "good moral character".



Indiana Poised to Legalize Discrimination


Indiana has passed a "Religious Freedom" bill, inspired by the national "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" in the state house. Gov. Pence (a Republican) has stated his intention to sign the bill.

Similar to the Arizona bill, this law will prevent any business or individual's religious beliefs from being "significantly burdened" by the government. No lawsuit can be brought up against a business or individual if the defense uses "deeply held beliefs" as an excuse for their actions. Fortunately, Arizona's Gov. Brewer vetoed the bill due to the national outcry against it.

This is primarily an attempt to undermine LGBT citizens, allowing (usually Christians) to deny products, services, housing, and associations with them because their lifestyle violates their beliefs. But this also may include other situations, like allowing Jehovah Witness doctors to refuse performing or prescribing blood transfusions, or permitting Police to opt out of securing a Muslim event.

The detrimental possibilities of letting religion trump law is frightful. Large companies, like Apple, Amazon, and Wal-Mart oppose these laws because they hurt business in places where some groups, like gay people, might not feel welcome. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce fears the law will rip the state's desire to be welcoming to people and business.

HRC and the ACLU both oppose the law and will fight to prevent it and other similar laws from passing.



Monday, March 23, 2015

Anti-LGBT Religious Conf. to be Held in SLC, LDS Leaders Involved

Scheduled for October this year, an annual conference will be hosted in SLC supporting anti-LGBT and women's health notions. The "World Congress of Families" will be focusing on "religious liberty" this year. Past conferences have included leaders of several extremely anti-gay groups as key speakers: "National Organization of Marriage", the "Eagle Forum", "Focus on the Family", and the "Family Research Council". Past speakers have also been apostles of the LDS church. Since Salt Lake is the host of the conference this year, it wouldn't be surprising if several LDS leaders speak.

The LDS Church has had a recent swing of opinions on policy.The Prop. 8 failure in California and the failed Amendment 3 defense in Utah have surprisingly led to the promotion of anti-discrimination for LGBT people. 

Whether it's to mend its reputation, or its another proclaimed revelation, LDS members are left in confusion as to do as the Church says, or as the Church does--since the LDS church does not have to (and will not) abide by the new anti-discrimination laws it itself officially supported. Other members are praying for confirmation and testimony that this new request to not exclude LGBT people from public activities is something their hearts can be softened to accept. (What?!?!). 

It will be interesting to see what leaders will say at this conference, let alone their own "General Conference" meetings this April and October. Perhaps they will avoid the topics altogether.


Salt Lake City #7 for LGBT Percentage in US

According to Gallup Daily tracking interviews, SLC has ranked #7 for most dense LGBT population in the US, ranking at 4.7%. These findings came from the interview question: "Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?"

In 2012, Salt Lake was deemed the "Gayest City" in the US.  Partly a joke to raise the cackles of the state and it's mormons, and partly a result of the publisher's positive experience with LGBT culture in SLC.

Utah has recently passed state-wide bans to discrimination based on sexual preference and identity. The same laws already existed in SLC municipal policies. This is also on the heels of legalizing same-sex marriage due to the federal rulings that banning such unions is unconstitutional.

Maybe Salt Lake actually is one of the gayest cities in the US...


Friday, March 13, 2015

Anti-Discrimination Signed into Law

SB296 is the first successful legislation in Utah to protect LGBT people in housing and in the workplace. Gov. Herbert happily signed the bill Thursday evening. Although this is a huge win for LGBT people, religious people also rest assured that their religious institutions are exempt from LGBT discrimination.

Personal note --- I got a little nauseous realizing that people actually were pleased that they were given permission to continue to discriminate and express hateful religious beliefs without legal repercussion. But, not everyone can get everything. That was the feeling across the board throughout the whole process of passing this bill.

It was more historic that the LDS Church worked closely with LGBT advocates to create the compromise, as well as so quickly.

Another bill, SB297, was passed with one more vote than SB296. This one picks up where the last left off, adding a few more exemptions for religious freedom. Although LGBT advocates are not pleased with this "addendum", it still walks a "fine line" to not cancel the purpose of SB296. Under SB297, counties must have at all open hours someone to officiate a marriage for any legal couple. If a clerk wishes not to marry a same-sex couple, the clerk can refuse, but also relinquishes all ability to marry anyone (except immediate family). There is also re-affirming that no religious officiator or institution can be punished by the government for their beliefs on marriage, refusing to perform marriages based on beliefs, or taking business licences from people who express discriminatory beliefs outside the work place.

Thankfully, however, there is no law against people or society as a whole disdaining anti-LGBT beliefs. Although a person cannot be fired for holding bigoted beliefs, if their supervisor see that the employee's beliefs are affecting their work, their associations with clients and partners, and the reputation of the business, that employee can be removed. That's not the government against religious beliefs... that's society.

There was a third bill that did not pass in the senate. This one even further wished to increase the religious exceptions and "freedoms." It attempts to add more excuses for individuals to refuse services that they claim "violate" their freedom of religion.



Tuesday, March 10, 2015

10 Ironies of Christians

I came across a blog link posted by an acquaintance I thought I'd share. In my recent exposures to the religious right agenda, I've noticed several ironic/hypocritical factors that are highly prevalent in religious (particularly Christian --- even more so in LDS) cultures.

Take note, these are not blanket statements. These are simply observations with various cases that often represent a large population of religious people. I'm not personally targeting anyone, nor saying that all religious people fit these traits. I will highlight two of the blog's points.

1. Religious people often pin non-believers as selfish. Atheists are in it for themselves and only care for their own needs. Not believing or adhering to religious teachings is an excuse to indulge in sex and otherwise "immoral" behavior.

But non-believers are often humbled with their open-mindedness to how small they are in the universe. They are constantly changing their views with science, research, and learning. They are meeting and building relationships with new people of all backgrounds. Church communities are usually in-bred social lives, cutting out the rest of the world. They forget there are more people NOT like them. LDS communities especially are known to cut out non-members. I used to do it myself. In Utah, the non-mormon kid sometimes have no friends because the mormon parents won't let their kids play with the non-mormon. Outside of Utah, members cling so closely (being a minority) that their only friends reside within their Sunday school and priesthood/relief society classes. Only associating with people just like you is kind of... selfish.

I've heard before a tune similar to: "He/she just wants to indulge in sin. That's why they don't want to go to church. How selfish." But sexual activity is one of many "sins" that is healthy human behavior. Confining it to one person after marriage in many cases is not possible (or at least not soon enough) before its lack starts affecting a person's health (physical and emotional). For some reason, there is a huge taboo on sex in religion, and in the US in general (mostly influenced by religion). Projection of guilt is often spewed by the religious restraining from the very desire they can't fulfill. Healthy, regular sexual activity is just as selfish as a balanced breakfast.

2. Religious folks are often exclaiming that their religious freedom is being squashed by the agenda of non-believers. "Freedom of Religion trumps all!" they declare.

Except it doesn't. Freedom of religion is just as important as freedom from religion. The US, according to the constitution, may not enact any laws establishing, endorsing, or favoring any religion.

Here's the catch... a group of religious legislators can decide to enact a law that enforces policies that originated from a religious belief OR a majority of citizens can vote in a law that resembles a religious belief. That is part of the democracy. Whatever the majority believes to be the best for the whole can become law. However, these laws can only be established within the US Constitution. When the judicial system challenges these laws for unconstitutionality, the religious right cries foul--their rights have been trampled by a small set of "liberal activist judges." This is more recently seen in all of the cases against same-sex marriage bans. "The will of the people is being denied. Democracy has died."

Most of these people don't understand that democracy is not a majority rules government. The majority can never overrule the rights and protections of a minority.  That is unconstitutional. That is what all of these judges are saying. You can't vote in laws that only benefit white, religious, male, heterosexuals. That violates the 14th Amendment: equal protection and due process.

But when the religious (a protected class, mind you) is so used to having all of the privileges, and equality creeps up on them, it appears to them that they are losing rights. It's their right to get to marry and not anyone else. It's their right to deny products and services to 'infidels' that are sinning and not following their 'one true God'. The quote from the blog I liked:

The problem with being privileged your whole life is that because you have had that privilege for so long, equality starts to look like oppression. - Mark Caddo
The religious are already EXTRA protected above all others. They can evade taxes legally, perform strange (non-violent/abusive/sex-offending) rituals, and discriminate within their church houses to their heart's content. Now they want to do it in public and in government? Who's foul now?

You can read the other eight ironies at the original blog post:


Friday, March 6, 2015

Utah Senate Panel Passes Anti-Discrimination/Religious Freedom Bill

The Utah senate panel that heard the SB296 Bill that supported a balance of anti-discrimination for LGBT people and a protection of religious liberties passed unanimously just yesterday. It will be debated on the Utah senate floor today. The bill has the support of Gov. Gary Herbert and the LDS Church, along with countless others that worked hard in contributing to the language of the bill. The bill can be passed and signed in either in its entirety, or not at all.

Not everyone is perfectly happy with the bill. LGBT advocates would probably wish to stifle any negative words and actions against LGBT people, or even have the right of firing them for a their hateful beliefs.

On the flip side, religious people would prefer to be given any right to refuse any public or private association with LGBT people, in essence, legislating their belief into law, forcing gay people to remain quiet and suppressed.

Both sides had to compromise, and in general, people are satisfied with these protections. This is a big win for LGBT and religious folks, as for the first time both worked together to find a proper and fair solution. It is was a rare scene for the LDS church and its leaders to back a law before it was even put to a vote.


New Bill Allows County Clerks to Refuse to Perform SSM

Republican Stuart Adams of Layton has proposed a bill that would allow a county clerk to refuse performing a marriage for a same-sex couple on the grounds of religious beliefs. There are two caveats, though.

1. The clerk can no longer perform marriages for any legal couple, gay or straight, as a government employee.

2. The clerk and clerk's office must provide an available alternative person to officiate the marriage.

This bill also applies to a few other similar situations. In addition, it excuses a few individuals from providing marriage-related services, such as a marriage counselor, to same-sex couples if their beliefs are against it. A baker baking cakes for a same-sex wedding is not an applicable example, as the article states. That service is not inextricably tied to marriage.


303 Notable Republicans Sign Amicus Favoring SSM

A Coalition of current or former republicans in government positions have signed an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court urging them to approve same-sex marriage across the 50 states. The signers all believe that with their understanding, the bans against SSM in Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio are inconsistent and violate government's properly limited role in regulating marriage.

The brief also  mentions the violation of equal protection and due process under the 14th amendment.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

BREAKING: Utah Legislators Unveil SB0296, Anti-Discrimination and Religious Liberty


Legislators in Utah have worked hard to finally agree on a version of a bill to address both anti-discrimination for LGBT people in work and housing, as well as conserving religious liberties as prescribed by the US Constitution.

Today, Senator Jim Debakis and others presented SB0296, written by Senator Steve Urquhart and two others. All seemed happy and satisfied with the provisions of the bill. Here are a few important aspects of the bill:

  1. Employers may not threaten, hire, fire, or otherwise discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual preference. 
  2. Housing providers cannot discriminate in rentals or sales on the basis of gender identity or sexual preference. 
  3. Employers may not threaten, hire, fire, or otherwise discriminate against employees that voice their opinions on marriage, family, or other deeply held beliefs.
  4. Religious entities and ordained leaders are exempt from being required to offer religious services to LGBT people.
  5. Persons with fewer than 4 family-unit rentals or religion owned and operated housing is exempt from LGBT discrimination (ie. BYU). 
  6. Individuals and for-profit organizations are not included in exemptions.

Hopefully the bill will pass on the Utah state floor to be put into law.



The Original Definition of 'Religious Freedom'

Last week, the Utah house unanimously passed a law that recognizes "January 16th as Religious Freedom Day and honoring the founding definition of Religious Freedom."

The current debate for religious freedom is generally within the definition of:

I should legally be able to refuse services, housing, employment, and public associations with anyone or anything based off of deeply held religious beliefs.

But this definition only really came out as a desperate last attempt to stifle the social progress of same-sex marriage legalization and other anti-discriminatory legislation. 

The original definition of religious freedom came from the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, written by Thomas Jefferson. James Madison then put it into law in 1786. This definition, in addition to removing a state established church, was:

An individual’s beliefs or non-beliefs “shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect [one’s] civil capacities.” In other words, what you believe or don't believe cannot be used as an excuse to either withhold services from you, or give you an advantage that others do not have.
This tune is dramatically different from that of religious proponents today. If believers wish to drum the original intent of the constitution and the founding fathers, they need not look further.

There is no need to add anymore anti-constitutional exceptions and special privileges to religion and religious people. Religion is already protected for one to worship as they please on their own. But what you do or work or business or otherwise in the civil sector is not your religion.

Let us honor January 16 as either Freedom of Religion or Freedom FROM Religion freely, as we choose.