Discrimination Hub




Anti-Gay Mississippi Law Takes Effect

Senate Bill No. 2681, a law allowing businesses to refuse LGBT identified people service went into effect on Tuesday.

ImageBetter known as the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the provision enables businesses to cite religious beliefs as a legitimate reason to turn customers away.

Sponsored by conservative Baptist pastor and state senator Philip Gandy, SB2681 was met with unabashed support from Mississippi's governor, Phil Bryant (pictured, below). “I am proud to sign the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which will protect the individual religious freedom of Mississippians of all faiths from government interference,” Gov. Phil Bryant said in a statement.

BryantOpposition to the bill, however, is widespread. If You're Buying, We're Selling is a coalition of local Mississippi businesses dedicated to stand against SB2681. The group distributes stickers to organizations wishing to display their opposition to the bill in their storefronts, letting consumers know that they're more than glad to serve any and all patrons.

John Curence, a Mississippi-based chef, has become one of the most prominent and vocal voices opposing the bill. "More than anything else, the law sends a terrible message about the state if consciousness in the state of Mississippi," Currence told the New York Times. "We are not going to sit idly by and watch Jim Crow get revived in our state."

Currence recently found himself face to face with Gov. Bryant through the 35th annual Central Park summer picnic thrown by the New York Mississippi Society. Booked months before Bryant threw his support behind SB2681, Currence turned the awkward conflict of interests into an opportunity. The following evening Currence and fellow chef Kelly English organized The Big Gay Mississippi Welcome Table, a protest dinner.

If, as supporters of the bill claimed, the law was simply trying to protect freedom of speech, the the governor need only attend Currence's protest dinner and state as much. Rather than accepting the invitation, Currence explained in an interview with Buzzfeed, the governor's office responded with hostility: “I got a phone call, a dressing down by the governor’s office — they wanted to know why I would embarrass the governor like this. And then it f**king dawned on me: You a**holes don’t f**king talk to me like a sixth-grader in the principal’s office, I’m a 50-year-old man. More to the point, I’m on the right f**king side of this thing. All you a**holes have to do is come to dinner.”

Read the full text of SB2681 AFTER THE JUMP...

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Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance Likely To Be Opposed On November Ballot

Annise-ParkerFor LGBT people in Texas, there may be a major hurdle in the offing. Lone Star Q reports that opponents of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) are claiming they’ve gathered enough signatures to put a repeal on the ballot for Houston voters in May. These opponents say 30,000 of the signatures from city of Houston voters have already been validated — nearly twice the 17,269 signatures required to place the repeal on the ballot in November.

At a press conference yesterday at the City Hall Rotunda, supporters of HERO wore red, showing solidarity. Houston Mayor Annise Parker (pictured) spoke at the Rotunda, and she expressed confidence that voters would “soundly defeat” the initiative come November:

The Houston I know does not discriminate, treats everyone equally and allows full participation by everyone in civic and business life...We don’t care where you come from, the color of your skin, your age, gender, what physical limitations you may have or whom you choose to love.  I am confident voters will soundly defeat any challenge to the ordinance.

For now, the nondiscrimination ordinance stands, protecting Houston citizens from housing/commercial/employment discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity or pregnancy.. Before its establishment in May, Houston was the only major American city to not have citywide protections in such matters for LGBT people.

[h/t Lone Star Q]


Faith Leaders Ask President Obama For ‘Robust Religious Exemption’ From Executive Order On Anti-LGBT Discrimination: READ

Letter

As mentioned in our coverage of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision earlier today, religious leaders close to The White House sent a letter to President Obama on Tuesday, petitioning for a "robust religious exemption" to President Obama's earlier announced executive order that would make it illegal for all federal contractors to discriminate in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, The Washington Post reports. This letter comes on the heels of a previouis letter from 140 religious leaders asking for a similar exemption. Importantly, Tuesday's letter was sent in the immediate wake of the Hobby Lobby decision at the Supreme Court. The letter argues that religiously affiliated organizations should be able to discriminate against LGBT people:

The letter reminds Obama of his own earlier faith-based opposition to same-sex marriage, as well as the government’s massive partnerships with faith-based social service groups that work on issues including housing, disaster relief and hunger. […]

“An executive order that does not include a religious exemption will significantly and substantively hamper the work of some religious organizations that are best equipped to serve in common purpose with the federal government.,” it said. “When the capacity of religious organizations is limited, the common good suffers.” […]

“Without a robust religious exemption . . . this expansion of hiring rights will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom.”

None of the groups mentioned in the letter have explicitly said they would pull out of their partnerships with the White House if they do not get an exemption.

Executive Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights Kate Kendell commented on the request for a religious exemption, stating, "This would be a catastrophic erosion of non-discrimination protections. We will not stand for this.”

6a00d8341c730253ef01a511b8305a970c-150wiMeanwhile, Former Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Towleroad guest blogger Matt Foreman, also took issue with narrower interpretations of The Hobby Lobby ruling and asserted how disastrous it would be for the LGBT community should Hobby Lobby influence a religious exemption to President Obama's executive order:

Such an exemption would have been bad enough before Hobby Lobby, but the decision makes it even more deadly. The Hobby Lobby majority said the decision shouldn't be read to undermine employment nondiscrimination laws. BUT if the EO contains the ENDA exemption, there's nothing to stop the reasoning in Hobby Lobby from having full force and effect in justifying anti-LGBT discrimination by federal contractors - pushing the door even more widely open for discrimination against our people for essentially any reason whatsoever.

The only acceptable religious exemption is the one long-contained in Title VII. Anything else can spell disaster for years to come, including profoundly weakening the impact of future federal nondiscrimination laws and our hopes to secure meaningful civil rights protections in the 29 states that still lack them.

There is no moral or political justification for President Obama to cave and endorse LGBT people having less protections from discrimination than other Americans. This issue is not a side show; it is core to our equality.

You can read the letter to the President for yourself, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Tobias Wolff: ‘Hobby Lobby Decision Supports The Enforceability Of Anti-Discrimination Laws’

Wolff

As pointed out yesterday by Rachel Maddow, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby, religious groups have already begun seeking “religious freedom” exemptions from an executive order that bans federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people. While alarm bells have begun to ring for many gay rights advocates, University of Pennsylvania law professor and Obama legal adviser Tobias Wolff has issued a statement that may be intended to allay fears about any potential detrimental impact that Hobby Lobby could have on LGBT rights. Wolff argues that Hobby Lobby does not open the floodgates of state sanctioned anti-gay discrimination on the grounds of first amendment religious exceptionalism, but rather is more limited in scope and in fact upholds anti-discrimination protections.

Wolff writes,

It is important to understand that Hobby Lobby in fact rejects the argument that religious exercise can be an excuse for invidious discrimination. The following is the key passage of the decision, which the Court inserted specifically to respond to the suggestion that its ruling could authorize discrimination in the workplace:

"The principal dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction. See post, at 32-33. Our decision today provides no such shield. The Government has a compelling interest in providing an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce without regard to race, and prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal.” […] 

- In this passage from Hobby Lobby, the Court…makes clear that laws and policies that prohibit discrimination in the workplace are "precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal". In other words, it is the act of discriminating itself -- which deprives the individual worker of "an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce" -- that inflicts the harm that the government has a compelling interest to eradicate. This passage strongly repudiates the argument that opponents sometimes make that there is no compelling interest in enforcing anti-discrimination laws if a person could find another job or patronize another business. Every act of private discrimination works a serious harm that the government has a compelling interest in eradicating.

In the days ahead, it is important that advocates and leaders strongly push out the message that the Hobby Lobby decision strongly supports the enforceability of anti-discrimination laws, even in the face of religious exemption arguments. Hobby Lobby represents a vindication of the principle that anti-discrimination protections should trump religious objections in the workplace.

You can read Wolff’s full statement, AFTER THE JUMP…

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Rachel Maddow On How The SCOTUS Hobby Lobby Ruling Is Already Being Used To Justify Anti-Gay Discrimination: VIDEO

Rachel

Last night Rachel Maddow took time to focus on the broad and dangerous impact of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, particularly, how the claim of “religious freedom" is already being used by religious groups to justify anti-gay discrimination:

"These groups want their religious beliefs to excuse them from having to follow the law on, not just contraception, not just health law rules, but on non-discrimination. They now, because of this ruling, want a religious exemption from laws that say you can't fire someone for being gay. They want to be able to fire people for being gay because they think God wants that."

Watch the segment, AFTER THE JUMP...

You can also read Ari Ezra Waldman's incisive analysis of the Hobby Lobby ruling HERE

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St. Petersburg, Flordia Gay Resort Sues County For Discrimination

Cabana

In an interesting legal kerfuffle, a St. Petersburg, Florida Resort has sued Pinellas County, questioning the line between niche markets and discrimination, according to The Tampa Bay Times. Representatives from the hotel in question, The Flamingo Resort (pictured), are claiming that the establishment's tax bill is too high, and that this is because they cater to a gay clientele.

Pinellas Property Appraiser Pam Dubov is familiar with a previous complaint of The Flamingo Resort's, and she doubts the validity of this new one. Said Dubov: "I categorically deny that we have any intent toward discrimination against the gay and lesbian community."

Dubov gives an example of how appraisers ballpark a property's value. For example, a restaurant that markets itself to small children might do less business, but it does not change the value of the property where the restaurant sits. In the example of The Flamingo Resort, the establishment took in $673,222 in 2012, but the property appraiser calculated a potential $1.1 million

The reasons given for this valuation were numerous. The building is old and requires considerable maintenance, there have been no renovations on the resort since construction, and the Flamingo operates under a 28 percent occupancy rate. According to the board records, the representative is specifically quoted as saying the hotel is "functionally obsolete" because of "the substandard location, and older furniture, fixtures and equipment that cannot be updated."

The board is also quoted as saying "It is difficult to determine whether or not this property could generate more net operating income if it did not appeal to a niche market."


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