Arizona’s attempt to let businesses refuse to serve LGBT people on religious grounds sparked significantly more bipartisan outrage than Republicans’ similar efforts to allow companies to refuse to cover birth control. But the two ideas are really a package deal, women’s groups are warning.
“What you’re seeing in both cases are corporations asserting the right to break the law in the name of religion, even if it results in harm and discrimination for third parties,” said Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel for the National Women’s Law Center. “What’s been really heartening with the Arizona case is the recognition that that’s a radical idea.”
The Arizona bill, which Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed following a nationwide backlash from both sides of the aisle, would have allowed businesses like florists and caterers to deny service to gay people on religious grounds. A number of prominent Republicans, including Arizona Sen. John McCain and former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, strongly opposed the bill, despite having previously supported legislation to allow for-profit companies to refuse to cover birth control on religious grounds.
The Supreme Court will hear oral argument later this month in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. on the question of whether for-profit corporations have a right to free exercise of religion that would permit them to deny birth control coverage despite the Affordable Care Act provision requiring most employers to cover contraception in their health plans. If Hobby Lobby wins, it could open the door to more anti-gay laws and other kinds of legalized discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom,” women’s health groups argue.
“All of these attacks are cut from the same dangerous cloth, and they would roll back the clock on the balance our nation has struck to respect religious beliefs while protecting the rights and liberties of all,” Planned Parenthood said in a joint statement with nearly 50 LGBT and human rights groups on Monday. “LGBT people could be turned away at hotels and restaurants, women could be denied access to birth control, people with HIV or AIDS could be denied health care, single mothers could be denied bank loans, and children could be prevented from getting immunizations.”
Some conservative groups are shying away from the comparison. A spokesperson for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the public interest law firm representing Hobby Lobby, told HuffPost that the fund would not comment at all on the Arizona bill because it’s a “completely different issue.”
Other conservative groups have jumped to the defense of the Arizona bill while acknowledging its connection to the birth control argument.
“Indeed, the Arizona law would protect groups like Hobby Lobby from a state-level HHS mandate coercing them to provide insurance coverage that violated their religious convictions,” wrote Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation. “The crucial question here is not whether you yourself would or wouldn’t pay for abortion-inducing drugs and contraception, but whether government should force the Little Sisters of the Poor to do so.”
The case of the Little Sisters of the Poor is different, however, because the nuns already qualify for Obamacare’s accommodation, which allows religious nonprofits to opt out of directly paying for birth control by asking a third-party insurance company to pay for it. The nuns are objecting to the act of directing someone else to cover birth control for their employees.
Martin said she thinks the link between denying birth control coverage and denying services to LGBT people could tip the scales against Hobby Lobby’s argument — if not at the Supreme Court level, then at least in the realm of public opinion.
“It’s always hard to tell how current events play into a justice’s perception, but the connections being so visibly drawn will only help in making clear that the rights that are being asserted in the Hobby Lobby case have very broad and troubling implications,” she said.
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