RFRA's Unintended Consequences--and an Even Bigger Prize

For an analysis of the flaws in the LGBT civil rights bill introduced by Indiana Republicans, see: http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2015/11/18/3723348/indiana-lgbt-road-map-t...

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Civil equality and equal opportunity for LGBT citizens: that’s a prize labor advocates have fixed their eyes on. To that end, our Congressional representatives should commit to adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the federal Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968. In this simple way, many LGBT civil-rights problems would be solved (assuming adequate law enforcement and majority-culture buy-in).

It’s no more tolerable for LGBT citizens to have civil-rights protections in one state but not in another than it would be for African-Americans. Nor is piecemeal civil-rights legislation either necessary or appropriate. We didn’t need to “experiment” with banning racial segregation in schools to see how that “worked,” before banning it in public accommodations. Either we continue to maintain a two-tiered system of American citizenship or we get rid of it.

To secure the prize, local media need to ask our Congressional representatives—and all primary and general-election candidates for Congress—whether they support extending full federal civil-rights protections to LGBT citizens. And if so or if not, why so or why not?

Similarly, local media should ask all of our Statehouse representatives--and local primary and general-election candidate for the Statehouse or governorship--whether they support a similar expansion of Indiana’s civil rights code. And if so or if not, why so or why not?

But laws on the books, especially if they’re a patchwork, won’t ensure civil equality and equal opportunity. Community awareness and commitment are needed.

To that end, local media should commit itself to several additional reporting projects. Such as: which police units in our region do not comply (or else not consistently or conscientiously) with Indiana’s hate-crimes reporting law enacted in 2000, and why?

Which area employers discriminate by providing unequal (or inequitable) wage/benefits packages to LGBT and non-LGBT employees?

Which area school corporations don’t explicitly include LGBT schoolkids and employees in their nondiscrimination and anti-bullying policies?

Which local charter schools that accept taxpayer money discriminate against or stigmatize LGBT kids and LGBT parents (whose tax money they exploit)?

Which local non-profits still lack inclusive nondiscrimination policies?

But, really, why should we be concerned only with pernicious discrimination practiced here and not with discrimination we export abroad? Which local churches and campus groups fund overseas missions implicated in the adoption of repressive, even genocidal, laws against LGBT people? This actually is our business, since—if for no other reasons—the U.S. must deal with political asylum-seekers, and some of us have family members living abroad.

If local media support civil equality and equal opportunity for LGBT people, they will take up these journalistic challenges. Concerned citizens, including labor, will follow up in appropriate ways.

Whatever additional protections are needed for religionists in Indiana, no fantasy of living in a socially “pure,” homogeneous environment should be allowed to trump first-class citizenship rights and equal opportunity for any group of Americans.

The unintended momentum generated by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to expand civil-rights protections in Indiana is potentially historic. Meanwhile, let’s also keep our eyes on the big prize, which requires both federal action and a searching look at the fabric of local community life.