When the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that marriage is a fundamental right for LGBT Americans, many pundits expressed relief that the battle for gay rights was, essentially, over. This was an obvious fiction — in 28 states, employers have the right to summarily terminate an employee because of their sexual identity — but nevertheless, gay activists are told, demanding an end to discrimination makes them aggressors, an insult to the “natural family.”
Equality for gay people, in other words, is not a settled issue in America. For these same “traditionalists” (loosely defined, as their conception of what a “traditional” family actually is changes over time) also dominate the Republican Party. From George W. Bush’s cynical and disgusting push for a Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 to the Indiana “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” passed by Vice President Mike Pence in 2014 (one of many such bills across the country), the Republicans have been on a long quest to target LGBT Americans for disenfranchisement and marginalization — most recently, under the transparently cynical cover of “religious liberty.”
Here is the thing with these laws — like the one just passed in Mississippi – that create specific, legal space to discriminate against LGBT people: they are completely unnecessary. Just as people have learned to be racist toward minorities without saying they are doing so, most people who choose to be bigoted toward people like me are subtle and don’t need broad legal space to do so. A law like “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination” tries to coopt the language of civil rights, but instead reveals just how hollow such an attempt really is — there is no persecution of Christians in America, and if the conservative Christian movement chooses to define “not being a bigot” as “persecution” then that is their problem, no anyone else’s.
Even still, the Republican Party cynically manipulates this fear. There is a reason Mike Pence was tapped to run with Donald Trump — he is the exemplar of justifying his bigtory as if the Bible says, anywhere, that Christians must mistreat gay people. To be fair to the Republicans, they have been successful — most Americans falsely think LGBT people have equal rights, when we do not, and when there is an active effort to target us for discrimination.
Individual issues like marriage have had space carved out through specific challenges in the courts — and in every case, the court has ruled that discrimination violates the 14th Amendment. But while you could argue that formally adding LGBT people to Civil Rights law through an act like ENDA (or the ERA, if we’re talking about woman) is unnecessary because of the 14th Amendment, the courts have refused to do so because they want a specific provision granting equal protection from discrimination. At the same time, the same people who argue that current laws are enough (such as Chief Justice John Roberts), also argue vociferously that the 14th amendment was about racial discrimination only and should not be applied broadly. When placed next to these laws designed specifically to allow discrimination, it is shown to be a hollow and disingenuous argument.
Bigotry is the only explanation for such laws. Whenever they are passed, like in North Carolina and Indiana, the state loses jobs and investment because large companies know that participating in discrimination is ultimately a loss for them. It does nothing to protect bigoted Christian business owners, who want to discriminate against people — rather it turns them into the targets of broad boycotts and they ultimately lose revenue as straight allies join the boycott against their state.
This is pure nihilistic destruction. It defends no religion (nowhere in the Bible does God or Jesus command His followers to deny service to homosexuals), and it economically hurts the communities that pass it. But it persists because, all the pearl-clutching aside, it is bigotry. Bigotry has no rational basis, even if it desperately tries to find a rational argument to support itself.
What this means is that the fight for equality is not over. President Trump’s cabinet is full of anti-gay bigots, and his Vice President is famously homophobic. They promise to restrict our ability to adopt children, to be safe from prejudicial discrimination at work, even — potentially — to reinstate the horrific Don’t Ask Don’t Tell regulation on the military. It is a comprehensive threat to LGBT Americans on every front except the right to get married.
The Republican party is losing demography on this issue: young people of all races and political ideologies overwhelmingly support equal rights for LGBT Americans. The Gerontocracy currently strangling the GOP are standing against every trend in this country shouting stop — but they are also in charge of the Congress and the White House, and are set to stack every level of court with their cohorts who share their regressive bigotries toward people like me. While the implications of an unpopular majority setting an extremist agenda is a conversation for a different time, the more pressing issue is the complacency I see in far too many people over basic, fundamental rights. They are not as inalienable as our most florid pundits claim they are — they are under dire, immediate threat, and it is incumbent on all of us to stand up for them.