Which part of ‘love thy neighbor’ confuses you?
Mississippi’s governor signed a bill this week that is pretty awful. It protects any individual, business, or organization (including hospitals) that want to refuse service to gay people due to a sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, that sexual relations should take place only inside such marriages, and that the terms male or female refer to individuals’ immutable biological sex. So it specifies which “religious beliefs” are protected. That is not religious freedom, that is religious imposition. That’s not protecting someone’s right to a belief, that is forcing a very specific set of so-called religious convictions upon everyone.
Yes, the law later has specific language that says that it shouldn’t be construed to imply that anyone can be refused emergency medical treatment, but it will be construed that way, and people will die. We’ve had situations like this before. A lesbian couple was vacationing in Florida some years ago, one member of the couple was in an accident, her partner had their medical power of attorney paperwork, but was refused admittance to the hospital room, was not allowed to give consent to her partner’s medical treatment, and the partner died while the hospital was trying to track down a blood relative. There was no legal basis for the hospital to refuse the power of attorney. Personnel at the hospital refused because they thought that Florida’s ban on same sex marriage invalidated the power of attorney (it did not). Florida courts subsequently ruled that the hospital had been wrong to do that under the law, however they also ruled that the hospital and employees weren’t liable for the death or any sanctions, fines, or lawsuit because they had thought they were acting in good faith.
And that is part of the reason that these “religious freedom” laws are so dangerous. People will decide that their bias is more important than the life of a “sinner”—and other people will be harmed and sometimes even die. Often the person who let them die will get off despite those caveats in the law because it will be decided that they were acting in good faith.
The idea that the law will protect you if you discriminate against certain types of people will encourage people to take it further. As Justice John Paul Stevens noted in his famous dissent of the Supreme Court case that upheld sodomy laws, the mere existence of such laws, even when it was shown that they were largely unenforced, creates the notion that certain types of people are less than human. The existence of even a narrowly-focused law used to justify a plethora of other types of discrimination against people who the law is aimed at. A few years later, when the Supreme Court reversed that ruling and invalidation all sodomy laws, Justice Kennedy quoted Stevens’ earlier dissent in explaining the reason the court had changed course.
The most galling part of all of this is that these people are claiming to be following Jesus when the propose withholding medical care from queer people, refusing to sell food to queer people, refusing the rent to queer people, et cetera. No matter how many times I read the gospels—especially the Sermon on the Mount—I can’t find anything that Jesus said that could be construed to condone such action, let alone command it! In fact, Jesus said that if someone sues you for the shirt off your back, give them your shirt and your coat, also. He doesn’t say change the law so you can shun and be cruel to some of your neighbors and be immune to being sued or legally punished for any of the consequences thereof!
This is why people are fleeing the churches, particularly young people. These folks have redefined Christianity, replacing Jesus’s teachings with condemnation of gay people. You can ignore any and all of Jesus’s actual commandments, but if you’re anti-gay enough you’ll be the hero of the Christian Right.
When laws like this are enacted, they don’t just hurt the people who get the services denied. They scare other people. They send a message that people who don’t conform to one group’s religious precepts are less than human, that they are not safe, that they cannot count on the police to help them if crimes are committed against them, that they aren’t welcome, that they won’t be treated fairly before the law. And that’s why businesses speak out against these laws. It isn’t because they are beholden to some mythic ally power queer lobbying force. It’s because employees—not just queer employees—don’t feel safe being sent to those states to work.
The truth is, no one should feel safe in places that have laws like this. Because the law gives judgmental people a license to punish anyone they think might be queer, or might be supportive of queer people. That makes these laws a form of terrorism—they are intended to scare queer people back into the closet, and with that stuff about biological sex and sex outside of marriage, all sorts of other people to lie and hide and pretend to be something they aren’t—and I can’t find any definition of love that condones that.