Conservatives Double Down on Anti-LGBT Laws as Gay Marriage Goes to the Supreme Court
Just days after signing into law a so-called religious exemptions bill that will legally protect Indiana residents if they’re sued by lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people for discrimination, Republican Gov. Mike Pence is enduring a wave of national criticism. Threats to boycott the state of Indiana, led by high-profile LGBT activists such as Star Trek actor George Takei, have gotten louder. The National Collegiate Athletic Association—which is scheduled to host its marquee men’s Final Four basketball tournament in Indianapolis this weekend—has come out publicly against the law.
But as Indiana backtracks, other states are moving full steam ahead with legislation that could discriminate against LGBT citizens. At least 28 states have introduced bills that are comparable to—or arguably worse than—Indiana’s law, according to a count by the Human Rights Commission. About a month before Pence signed Indiana’s bill into law, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, signed two anti-LGBT bills into law. Meanwhile, Nevada is also considering bills that would allow individuals and businesses to choose not to abide by antidiscrimination laws, as are Georgia, Missouri, and Texas.
Even Massachusetts—the first state in the country to legalize marriage equality in 2004—is considering a law aimed at keeping transgender people out of gender-specific bathrooms. Texas lawmakers are mulling 20 antigay laws. And Kamala Harris, California’s Democratic attorney general, is in the awkward position of having to ask a court in Sacramento to reject a proposal that would punish anyone caught having sex with someone of the same gender with “bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.”
Ohio took the unconventional path of issuing a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that gay Americans are too politically powerful to truly be impacted by the discriminatory practices of individual states.
The laws are in large part a reactionary move by opponents of LGBT equality who are anticipating next month’s Supreme Court hearing on marriage equality, according to observers. On April 28, the court is set to hear four marriage equality cases, from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee, that will determine whether states that currently do not recognize marriage equality must recognize unions performed in states that allow them.
For LGBT citizens who live in those states, the discussion about marriage equality is deeply personal. When Candice Hardnett, a 35-year-old pastor in Savannah, Georgia, wanted to marry the woman she’s been with for seven years, she had to travel 2,000 miles across the country, to Las Vegas, to do it. The move wasn’t her first choice.
“We shopped for venues and bands here [in Georgia], because we really wanted to spend our money in our home state,” Hardnett told TakePart. “But when we realized that marriage equality was so far off in Georgia, we decided to do it and just make a statement.”
But in the months since their marriage, the couple has come to believe they must do more than just make a statement. “We want to start a family,” Hardnett says. “And we need legal protection to ensure that our family won’t be torn apart.”
Hardnett’s unique position—Georgian, woman of faith, openly gay—puts her at the center of the often-competing discussion about marriage equality. Savannah, like Atlanta, is a relatively liberal place, but the majority of the state is opposed to marriage equality. According to research conducted by Public Policy Polling in 2014, only 27 percent of voters think marriage equality should be legal. In February, Georgia lawmakers introduced two “religious freedom” bills that were opposed even by Michael Bowers, a Republican former state attorney general who once defended antisodomy laws.
To Hardnett, those arguments are beside the point.
“We’re taxpaying citizens,” she says. “Marriage is a legal contract, and it’s our right to share our lives with whomever we choose, as long as we’re of age and consenting adults.”