Congressman Cummings Destroys Arguments For License-To-Discriminate Bill In Three Minutes Flat – BY CELISA CALACAL & EVAN POPP JUL 12, 2016 4:30 PM

 Exactly one month after the deadliest gun massacre in recent U.S. history at a gay bar in Orlando, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on Tuesday on a bill that would give a license to discriminate against gay individuals under the guise of freedom of religion.

The bill, the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), was introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) last year, and would provide special legal protections to individuals who oppose same-sex marriage and those who oppose extramarital sex.

Under the bill, the government cannot deny tax subsidies, grants, or benefits to individuals or religious organizations who harbor anti-LGBT views. While the bill’s authors and supporters on the panel attempted to frame the bill as a logical extension of the the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clause and claimed it was “not a discriminatory bill,”  opponents countered that it would merely sanction taxpayer funded discrimination.

In addition to Lee and Labrador, who left without answering questions, the witnesses included three Republican majority witnesses (anti-gay former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Kristen Waggoner, and Witherspoon Institute scholar Matthew Franck) and three Democratic minority witnesses (former Rep. Barney Frank, Columbia Law Professor Katherine Franke, and successful marriage equality plaintiff Jim Obergefell).

At the hearing, the ranking Democrat on the committee Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland asked Franke a series of questions about whether the bill would preclude federal enforcement of civil rights laws and family leave protections to employees in same-sex relationships. After she indicated that it did, Cummings asked the full panel of witnesses to raise their hands if they believe it is acceptable for businesses to discriminate against people because of their race, gender, disability, or because they are in a same-sex relationship. None of the witnesses raised their hands, including the ones in favor of FADA.

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Conservatives regroup after gay marriage defeat – By ADAM B. LERNER 7/12/15 7:53 AM EDT

Participants in the March For Marriage protest outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June.       AFP PHOTO/PAUL J. RICHARDS        (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court’s recent same-sex marriage ruling left many conservative Christians steamed, with some calling for new constitutional amendments and others urging resistance against America’s new legal reality.

But many leaders on the religious right accepted defeat quietly, embraced their new underdog status, and began coalescing around an invigorated crusade for “religious liberty,” with a strategy modeled on the very social movement that just beat them in court: gay-marriage advocates.

“Same-sex marriage has been the looming cultural issue of the moment,” said Phillip Bethancourt, executive vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, an offshoot of the right-leaning Southern Baptist Convention. “Religious liberty issues are the next horizon.”

The religious right rose to prominence in American politics in the 1980s, under the banner of Jerry Falwell’s now-defunct “Moral Majority.” But now, Bethancourt said, conservative Christians have become a “moral minority” living in a “post-Bible belt” America that discriminates against them.

Justice Samuel Alito employed similar rhetoric in his same-sex marriage dissent, warning that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s sweeping decision will be “used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.” Justice Clarence Thomas agreed, writing in his own dissent that the ruling could have “potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.”

“It seems like the oppressor is now taking on the mentality of the oppressed,” said Brandan Robertson, a self-described evangelical who supports same-sex marriage.

A number of Republican presidential candidates have echoed those arguments following the high court’s decision.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told Fox News that “already Christian businesses are facing discrimination if they don’t want to participate in wedding ceremonies that violate their sincerely held beliefs.” Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee similarly warned in a USA Today op-ed of businesses “economically terrorized” for their beliefs and the ruling’s coming “collision with the First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty.”

Similar worries about the plight of religious dissenters surfaced sporadically before the court’s decision — mostly in states with gay marriage and LGBT anti-discrimination laws or occasionally on a national scale, in reference to debates over abortion and contraception. But now, longtime evangelical leader Gary Bauer said, there’s widespread consensus among conservatives that “the next battlefield is protecting religious liberty,” with a particular emphasis on Americans whose religious beliefs prevent them from partaking in same-sex marriage ceremonies.

In the wake of the court’s decision, the religious right has already begun pushing new religious freedom laws and executive orders in state governments specifically targeted at preventing state agencies from penalizing businesses and individuals who refuse to participate in gay weddings.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback became the first Republican politician to take action, issuing an executive order Tuesday that forbids the state government from penalizing any religious leader or organization that refuses to participate in a same-sex marriage. In a statement accompanying the order, he cited a need to “protect against any infringement” of the “right to worship according to ‘dictates of conscience’.”

Unlike Indiana or Arkansas’ controversial religious freedom bills, which drew fire nationally for broad language that potentially extended to lawsuits between private individuals and businesses, Brownback’s order specifically dealt with government penalties for those who refuse to recognize gay-wedding ceremonies. The order made direct reference to Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision, as an “imposition” that “poses potential infringements on the civil right of religious liberty.”

And in Congress, more than 100 members have followed suit by cosponsoring the First Amendment Defense Act, which would prevent the federal government from revoking the tax-exempt status of religious organizations that do not recognize same-sex marriages. The bill speaks to fears fueled by President Obama’s own solicitor general, Donald Verrilli, who said during Obergefell’s oral arguments that non-cooperative religious organizations’ tax-exempt status is “certainly going to be an issue” for the court in the future.

A number of religious conservatives told POLITICO that the key to winning these upcoming legislative and legal battles will be employing tactics refined by the same-sex marriage movement that recently defeated them.

“[LGBT activists] did a good job of making the stories of peoples’ lives front and center and saying, ‘Look at how these people are affected,’” said Travis Weber of the Family Research Council. Groups like Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign used social media to promote popular gay and lesbian celebrities’ viewpoints and encouraged Americans to look to their LGBT neighbors asking for acceptance.

Conservatives should follow suit, Weber said, by highlighting the stories of religious individuals he said had been “demonized,” pointing to businesses like Sweet Cakes by Melissa, an Oregon bakery that was fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding wake for a lesbian couple, or the Odgaard family, who shut down their Iowa bistro after a legal battle over their refusal to host a same-sex wedding. These cases, he believes, can serve as the same sort of compelling hook that Justice Kennedy used by putting James Obergefell’s heartfelt story of losing his husband at the beginning of his decision.

Another cue conservative Christians are taking from their Obergefell defeat: Don’t focus too heavily on gay and lesbian peoples’ sex lives. Instead, focus on religious liberty issues that have nothing to do with the bedroom.

“When sexual liberty and religious liberty are at odds with each other, in our culture, oftentimes sexual liberty prevails,” Bethancourt said, noting that the same-sex marriage movement was ultimately successful in highlighting families seeking parental rights and access to loved ones in the hospital.

Bethancourt’s group wrote an amicus brief for the Supreme Court on behalf of a young Muslim woman who was denied a job at Abercrombie and Fitch on the presumption that she would not take off her head scarf during work. The case, he noted, was a clear-cut issue of religious liberty without an alienating sexual component, and it also allowed his movement to partner with other religious groups so that religious liberty arguments were no longer tethered to a particular denomination.

“People of faith have to stand together, they have to look out for each other,” Bethancourt said.

And there’s another lesson for religious conservatives: Build a diverse coalition. Bethancourt noted that progressive groups, from the NAACP to the ACLU, successfully expanded the base of support for marriage equality outside of traditional LGBT advocates.

But no matter how the Christian right evangelizes and markets itself, many same-sex marriage advocates see it as nothing more than bigotry in sheep’s clothing.

The religious right has employed the “language of apocalyptic impending doom” because “religious leaders realize they’re losing their base,” said Robertson, who characterized the right’s narrative as: “We’ve lost our position of influence in our country, we’re now a minority, and [thus] persecution is coming.”

“LGBT activists [were] saying, ‘Treat us the same as everyone else’ for a long period of time, and conservative Christians are [now] saying, ‘What we want is a carve out so we are exempt from parts of civil law,’” said Clyde Wilcox, a professor at Georgetown University who wrote “Onward Christian Soldiers: The Christian Right in American Politics.”

Whether the Christian right succeeds in securing new protections depends largely on how much the American public buys into their stories of persecution, said Michael Moreland, a former White House aide to George W. Bush.

“Each side is trying to lay claim to the language of discrimination,” which he said is “a very powerful tool” in American politics because it’s “deeply shaped by the civil rights movement.”

“Everyone’s kind of waiting now to see how this plays out. It could play out as race discrimination did, where understandably you had a national consensus come together very quickly about the intolerability of racial segregation,” he said. “Or it could end up being like abortion, where you have a constitutional right but a lot of exemptions,” earned through legal and political fights by a still formidable pro-life movement.

“A very narrowly crafted religious protections argument can be very successful,” Wilcox said, but overreach like in Indiana will push the public away. “Conservatives need to watch out.”


Supreme Court sets stage for historic ruling on gay marriage – by Steve Friess January 16, 2015 3:38PM ET

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at Jan 17, 2015 2.35

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear appeals in four same-sex-marriage cases, virtually assuring that it will issue a landmark ruling by the end of June on one of the era’s most contentious and fastest-changing social issues.

In accepting the cases — from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee — the stage is set for a final legal battle over whether denying gay couples the ability to legally wed is a violation of the U.S. Constitution. The justices are expected to hear oral arguments in April and to decide by the end of June whether every state and U.S. territory must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize such marriages conducted elsewhere.

A decision in favor of equal marriage rights would take its place in the canon of pivotal cases involving human rights, from Brown v. Board of Education in 1952, which forced desegregation, to Loving v. Virginia, which struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriages.

“What the Loving case did for interracial marriage, we’re hoping these cases will do for same-sex marriage,” said Dana Nessel, an attorney for suburban Detroit couple April DeBoer and Jane Rowse, whose case is now on the Supreme Court docket.

DeBoer v. Snyder, first filed in January 2012, originally sought to force Michigan to allow both women to be legal parents to their four adopted children. It was expanded later that year to demand the legal right to marry. The couple’s case — and similar ones around the nation — was bolstered in June 2013 when the Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The 5-4 decision, written by Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, asserted that discriminating against same-sex couples who wish to wed is a violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

That ruling, in United States v. Windsor, kicked off a winning streak for same-sex marriage advocates through the courts, with dozens of federal district judges and three three-judge panels at federal appellate courts concluding that states may not discriminate either. The number of states where gay couples can legally marry climbed from nine to 36 as of Friday. More than 70 percent of Americans now live in states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Federal judges in all four states under the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals — Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee — also struck down marriage bans in those states. However, in November a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit upheld the states’ right to bar same-sex marriage, creating a schism between interpretations of Windsor and making Supreme Court mediation inevitable


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Federal judge: Florida gay-marriage ban unconstitutional – BY STEVE ROTHAUS Posted on Thursday, 08.21.14

In the first decision on same-sex marriage with statewide impact, a federal judge ruled Thursday that Florida’s gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional, ordering the state to allow the marriage of same-sex couples and to recognize marriages performed elsewhere.

“When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage, though just as sincerely held, will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination,” wrote U.S District Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee. “Observers who are not now of age will wonder just how those views could have been held.”

Hinkle, who stayed most of the effects of his ruling pending appeal, added: “The institution of marriage survived when bans on interracial marriage were struck down, and the institution will survive when bans on same-sex marriage are struck down. Liberty, tolerance, and respect are not zero-sum concepts. Those who enter opposite-sex marriages are harmed not at all when others, including these plaintiffs, are given the liberty to choose their own life partners and are shown the respect that comes with formal marriage. Tolerating views with which one disagrees is a hallmark of civilized society.”

The judge’s ruling comes after 22 individuals, including nine married couples, sued Florida to recognize their marriages or grant them marriage licenses. Plaintiffs in the case include eight same-sex couples from throughout Florida and the LGBT-rights group SAVE, represented by the ACLU of Florida.

“We are overjoyed that the judge ruled on the side of fairness by ordering the state of Florida recognize the legal marriages of the plaintiffs,” SAVE Executive Director Tony Lima said in a statement.

Defendants in the case include Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi.

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