Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality
UPDATE: HSB 50 was killed today:
Earlier today, House members met to discuss House Study Bill 50, the Marriage Discrimination Act, which would have allowed individuals and businesses to deny accommodations and services to married couples, using religious grounds as cover. During the meeting, Rep. Rich Anderson, lead sponsor of the bill, tabled the legislation, citing the concerns raised about the bill since it was introduced (from One Iowa).
Last week, the Iowa House of Representatives voted to ban gay marriage in Iowa. The good news is that the bill passed in the House will never see the light of day in the Senate. Iowa Senate Majority Leader, Mike Gronstal and his aligned democrats will not let it come to a vote. As the Iowa House Republicans were embarrassing themselves speaking in support of the anti-marriage equality legislation with this type of logic:
“See, a male and a female can do something that a homosexual couple cannot: They can create children accidentally. That’s the issue. It’s not about love. It’s not about romance. It’s about driving state policy toward responsible procreation.” (Rep. Rich Anderson R-Clarinda)
the rest of Iowa and the nation rallied around an eloquent speech given by 19-year old Zach Wahls on the House floor, in defense of his two mothers.
This week, Representative Rich “accidental procreation” Anderson’s “Religious Conscience Protection Act” will reach committee. Do not let the title of this bill fool you, it has absolutely nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with anti-gay discrimination. Pro-equality organizations One Iowa, Iowa Interfaith Alliance and Iowa ACLU released a joint statement denouncing this newest attack on marriage equality.
I have included the text below – and encourage you to read it – but here is a reasonable summary of what this bill calls for: An entity or person/small business would be able to deny goods, services, housing, accommodation, adoption and reproductive services to anyone if it runs counter to a “sincerely held religious belief.” Although this is clearly targeted at same-sex couples, this could easily go much, much further.
I spoke with Dena Sher of American’s United for the Separation of Church and State about the right-wing mobilization against Iowa Supreme Court Justices last year and she mentioned this type of legislation as the next possible wave in the anti-gay arsenal, an “end run” around gay marriage. It can be reasoned that Mr. Anderson’s proposed HSB 50 has roots in The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). These RFRA’s – at the state level sometimes called “extreme RFRA’s” – sound as though they favor of religious liberty but would allow for a panoply of discrimination. For example what if one’s sincerely held religious belief required denial of housing to an interracial couple, a single mother or unwed pregnant woman (pick your objectionable scenario)?
As we see broader acceptance and demand for marriage equality we will certainly see these types of bills pour into state houses across the nation – especially after a particularly brutal election year for Democrats. The people I have spoken to in Iowa close to this issue don’t feel gay marriage is ultimately at risk. The Iowa House, controlled by Republicans, a good lot of them far right, will continue to lob asinine bills onto the floor of congress and the Senate will continue to dutifully kill them.
But, at what point does the Senate decide they are going to control the debate? At what point will the good Iowa Democrats serving in the Senate decide that they have had enough of the hate-filled rhetoric and legalized discrimination House Republicans continue to offer? And it is not just on gay rights, women’s rights and the right to abortion is under attack in Iowa as well.*
There is a time to ignore the screeching ridiculousness of the far-right and then there is a time to act. For Iowa Senate Democrats it is time to act.
Other states that have tried/are trying to launch state RFRA’s:
Interestingly, support behind state level RFRA’s have been led by Family Research Council state affiliates. Much like the Iowa Family Policy Center (reminder: received over $3 million in your tax dollars) – now under The FAMiLY Leader umbrella, led the fight against gay marriage and judicial retention, they no doubt are helping motivate the Iowa House’s HSB 50.
In 2009, the Louisiana legislature considered (and very nearly passed) a bill that would have put a proposed RFRA on the ballot. It was worded differently than most – in a way that caused us concern. (Text as introduced here: http://www.legis.state.la.us/billdata/streamdocument.asp?did=642884.) Louisiana Family Forum were the proponents of this. (Louisiana passed a RFRA statute that is very similar to the federal RFRA.)
Last year, in Colorado, the national and local Focus on the Family groups, along with the Catholic Conference, started the petition process to place a substantially similar amendment on the ballot there. An ad hoc coalition of organizations challenged whether it was a single subject and whether the title was accurate.
And, also last year, in North Dakota, the Focus on the Family affiliate and the Catholic Conference tried to gather signatures to put one of these amendments on the ballot this fall. They did not gather enough for the 2010 ballot, but have until April 2011 to continue signature gathering to get enough qualify for the 2012 ballot. This is the North Dakota Family Alliance’s page on this proposed amendment: http://www.ndfa.org/ndreligiousliberty.php.
House Study Bill 50 – Introduced
HOUSE FILE _____ BY (PROPOSED
COMMITTEE ON JUDICIARY BILL BY CHAIRPERSON ANDERSON)
A BILL FOR An Act establishing the religious conscience protection Act. 1 BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF IOWA: 2 TLSB 1894YC (5) 84 pf/rj
H.F. _____ Section 1. NEW SECTION . 216F.
1 Title. 1 This chapter shall be known and may be cited as the 2 “Religious Conscience Protection Act”.
3 Sec. 2. NEW SECTION . 216F.2 Exemptions —— marriage —— 4 solemnization, celebration, treating as valid. A religious corporation, association, educational institution, society, charity, or fraternal organization, or an 7 individual employed by such an entity while acting in the scope of employment shall not be required to do any of the following 9 if doing so would cause such entity to violate the sincerely 10 held religious beliefs to which the entity subscribes or such 11 individual to violate the individual’s sincerely held religious beliefs: 13 a. Solemnize a marriage. 14 b. Treat a marriage as valid. 15 c. Provide services, accommodations, advantages, 16 facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the 17 solemnization or celebration of a marriage. 18 2. a. Except as provided in paragraph “b” , an individual, 19 sole proprietor, or small business shall not be required to do 20 any of the following if doing so would cause the individual 21 or sole proprietor to violate the individual’s or sole 22 proprietor’s sincerely held religious beliefs or the small 23 business to violate the sincerely held religious beliefs to 24 which the small business subscribes: 25 (1) Provide goods or services that assist or promote 26 the solemnization or celebration of a marriage, or provide 27 counseling or other services that directly facilitate the 28 perpetuation of a marriage. 29 (2) Provide benefits to the spouse of an employee. 30 (3) Provide housing to a married couple. 31 (4) Provide adoption or reproductive services. 32 b. The exemptions provided pursuant to paragraph “a” 33 shall not apply if the individual is a government employee 34 or official and another government employee or official is not promptly available and willing to provide the requested 1 government service without inconvenience or delay. However, 2 if the government employee or official is a judicial officer 3 authorized to solemnize marriages, the exemption provision 4 pursuant to paragraph “a” shall continue to apply. 5 c. For the purposes of this subsection, “small business” 6 means a legal entity other than a natural person that meets any 7 of the following specifications: 8 (1) Provides services which are primarily performed by an 9 owner of the business. 10 (2) Has five or fewer employees. 11 (3) If a legal entity providing housing for rent, owns five 12 or fewer units of housing. 13 3. a. Refusal to provide services, accommodations, 14 advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges if in accordance 15 with this section, shall not result in either of the following: 16 (1) Creation of any civil claim or cause of action against 17 any individual or entity acting in accordance with this 18 section. 19 (2) An action by the state or a political subdivision, under 20 any law of the state or a political subdivision, to penalize 21 or withhold benefits from any individual or entity acting in 22 accordance with this section including but not limited to 23 laws regarding employment discrimination, housing, public 24 accommodations, educational institutions, licensing, government 25 contracts or grants, or tax-exempt status. 26 b. This subsection shall not be interpreted to preclude any 27 individual or entity acting in accordance with this section, 28 who is adversely affected by such action, from utilizing any 29 remedy otherwise provided by law. 30 4. This section is intended to implement, in part, article 31 I, sections 3 and 4 of the Constitution of the State of Iowa, 32 and the first amendment to the Constitution of the United 33 States. 34 EXPLANATION 35 -2- LSB 1894YC
(5) 84 pf/rj 2/ 4 H.F. _____ This bill creates the religious conscience protection 1 Act. The bill provides exemptions for religious corporations, 2 associations, educational institutions, societies, charities, 3 and
fraternal organizations, and individuals employed by such 4 entities while acting in the scope of employment, from any 5 requirement to solemnize a marriage, treat a marriage as valid, 6 or provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, 7 goods, or privileges for purposes related to the solemnization 8 or celebration of a marriage, if by doing so would cause such 9 entity to violate the sincerely held religious beliefs to 10 which the entity subscribes or the individual to violate the 11 individual’s sincerely held religious beliefs. 12 Additionally, with regard to an individual, sole proprietor, 13 or small business, the bill exempts these entities from any 14 requirements of providing goods or services that assist or 15 promote the solemnization or celebration of a marriage or 16 providing counseling or other services that directly facilitate 17 the perpetuation of a marriage; providing benefits to the 18 spouse of an employee; providing housing to a married couple; 19 or providing adoption or reproductive services, if doing so 20 would cause the individual or sole proprietor to violate the 21 individual’s or sole proprietor’s sincerely held religious 22 beliefs or the small business to violate the sincerely held 23 religious beliefs to which the small business subscribes. 24 However, the exemptions do not apply if the individual is a 25 government employee or official and another government employee 26 or official is not promptly available and willing to provide 27 the requested government service without inconvenience or delay 28 with the exception of judicial officers authorized to solemnize 29 marriage. The bill also defines “small business” for the 30 purposes of the bill. 31 The bill provides that refusal to provide services, 32 accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges 33 in accordance with the bill shall not result in creation of a 34 civil claim or cause of action, or any action by the state or a 35 -3- LSB 1894YC (5) 84 pf/rj 3/ 4 H.F. _____ political subdivision to penalize or withhold benefits from any 1 individual or entity exempted under the bill, including but not 2 limited to laws regarding employment discrimination, housing, 3 public accommodations, educational institutions, licensing, 4 government contracts or grants, or tax-exempt status. 5 The bill provides that the bill shall not be interpreted to 6 preclude any individual or entity acting in accordance with the 7 bill who is adversely affected by the action from utilizing any 8 remedy otherwise provided by law. 9 The bill also states that the bill is intended to implement, 10 in part, article I, sections 3 and 4 of the Constitution of the 11 State of Iowa, and the first amendment to the Constitution of 12 the United States. 13 -4- LSB 1894YC (5) 84 pf/rj 4/ 4
* link to legislation regarding abortion in Iowa.