Overdue for Equality

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Indiana and Arkansas have been in the news in the last few weeks regarding the states’ religious freedom bills. Although religious freedom sounds like a positive, just idea, where all are allowed to choose and follow their own religion and be protected to do so by the law, these laws have had negative outcomes. Given that some people have interpreted their religions as discriminatory and exclusionary, these laws have started allowing business owners to deny services to the LBGTQ community for ‘religious reasons.’ The truth is that 19 other states and the federal government have similar laws in place, yet these bills, enacted starting in 1993, have not caused any prejudice.  The largest difference in the bills is their classification of “person”. Under Indiana’s law, a “’’person’ is extended to mean ‘a partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a company, a firm, a society, a joint-stock company, an unincorporated association’ or another entity driven by religious belief that can sue or be sued.” Illinois’s 1997 religious freedom law, for example, does not outright define ‘person’ to include anything other than human beings, thus never fostering any bias towards the LBGTQ community as consumers. These new “post Hobby Lobby” laws implemented by Indiana and Arkansas, and waiting approval in Kansas, are steps in the wrong direction. These laws should not be able to permit business owners to victimize their customer base and reject those who do not fit in with their beliefs.

Globally, the United States has fallen behind regarding equal rights, especially for the LBGTQ community. Recognition of same-sex unions, same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples all still vary by state in the US. This tells the LBGTQ community that they are not welcomed in every state of the union and that they are less than other citizens.  Also, there is no universal anti-discrimination laws put in place concerning sexual orientation, so it is legal to show prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Countries such as South Africa, Canada, Uruguay, and a large majority of the Europe Union have forbid discrimination of the grounds of sexual orientation and have legalized same-sex unions, marriage, and adoption. Though President Obama has recently called for the end to conversion therapies for gay and transgender youth and the Supreme Court is deciding if same-sex marriage should become a federal right, this is not enough. These examples have had little progress and have and will take years to become custom. Whereas Sweden has introduced a gender-neutral pronoun to its vocabulary to broaden the concept of gender, members of the LBGTQ community in the US cannot even go into some restaurants without being discriminated against. The United States, the country with the world’s largest GDP and a frontrunner in the world’s technology and trade, is massively outdated in its civil rights laws.

The 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution states:

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.State Map

This amendment, which was adopted in 1868, is more progressive than many of the laws being put in place today. These new religious freedom laws are not protecting anyone’s rights to practice their religion; they are just a way to discriminate and segregate the US. It is not right that corporations, companies and individuals are bothered by who other people are and how they lead their lives. These for-profit companies in Indiana and Arkansas should be taking everybody’s business, no matter their gender or sexual orientation. Their outdated, ignorant beliefs are not only hurtful and narrow-minded, but uneconomical and inefficient. The United States has become a divided nation where some try to become superior of others. The United States, also, seems to have become a country that tells its citizens ‘no you can’t,’ more than ‘yes you can’. To remain a leader globally, we need to fix these domestic policies. We need to strive to equalize all our citizens and put in place federal anti-discrimination laws, so no one feels the need to hide who they really are. We need to tell our state and the federal governments that nobody other than same-sex couples are affected when same-sex couples get married, so there is no reason why these unions should not be legal. Overall, we need to urge the United States to enter the 21st century when it comes to civil rights and enforce the equality that has been promised within the law, yet is vastly overdue.

 

Alison AbramsAlison Abrams is currently pursuing her Bachelors of Science in Mathematical Sciences at Bentley University with a Liberal Studies Major in Ethics and Social Responsibility. Through her experience with interest groups and political campaigns and her volunteerism at various non-profits, Alison has developed a passion for political action and social justice. She is very excited that her internship with the Governmental and External Affairs department here at Wheelock has allowed her to research and discuss various policy issues.