In the wake of multiple firings of LGBTQ people from Catholic institutions, the chair of Fordham University’s theology department has reported another disheartening political reality for the queer community in the form of two state court rulings.
Writing for Religious Dispatches, Patrick Hornbeck cited two cases in which rulings have favored religious exemptions to laws designed to protect the civil rights of LGBTQ people. The first case involved a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in Department of Fair Employment and Housing vs. Cathy’s Creations, Inc. Hornbeck provided the details:
“Two women asked Cathy Miller’s bakery in Bakersfield, California, to create a custom cake for their wedding reception. She declined, citing her Christian faith and opposition to same-sex marriage. […] Without waiting for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the broader issues at stake, California Superior Court Judge (and Arnold Schwarzenegger appointee) David R. Lampe ruled emphatically in favor of the baker. ‘The State cannot succeed on the facts presented as a matter of law,’ he wrote. ‘The right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment outweighs the State’s interest in ensuring a freely accessible marketplace.’”
Lampe ruled in favor of the baker. He noted that “[a] wedding cake is not just a cake in a Free Speech analysis,” and that “[t]he right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment outweighs the State’s interest in ensuring a freely accessible marketplace.”.
Hornbeck also reported on a North Carolina case that followed soon after the California one:
“Not long after Judge Lampe exempted Miller from the requirements of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, a substantial monetary settlement was made public in a North Carolina case. Gayle Myrick served as a state magistrate for a little more than three years, but when same-sex marriage was approved in North Carolina in 2014, she sought a religious exemption from the requirement that she perform same-sex marriages as part of her duties. Denied the concession that she proposed—that her schedule be adjusted so that she would not be on duty during the hours when marriages can be performed—Myrick resigned, in the process losing retirement benefits that were soon to be vested.
She filed a complaint with the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), charging her supervisors with discrimination on the basis of religion. In March of last year, EEOC administrative law judge Michael J. Devine ruled in Myrick’s favor. In a case entitled Myrick v. Warren, he found that Myrick’s supervisors had not fulfilled their constitutional obligation, under the Free Exercise Clause, ‘to at least explore the options and provide an accommodation unless granting the accommodation would cause an undue burden.’ Devine ordered that the North Carolina courts provide Myrick with back pay, compensate her for her attorney’s fees, and determine whether a position exists to which she might be reinstated. As we recently learned, the parties ended up settling for nearly $225,000 in compensation and $115,000 in attorney’s fees.”
As Hornbeck pointed out, religious organizations and institutions are protected in these cases at the expense of LGBTQ employees and citizens:
“Indeed, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges recognized that ‘religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction’ their beliefs about same-sex marriage, and that ‘[t]he First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection.’”
Of course, the problem remains: protection at what cost? Religious freedom is a right held by every United States citizen, and it is certainly a good in itself that aims to protect against discrimination by any one religious practice. However, as demonstrated in these cases, religious freedom continues to be used as a means to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. That which is intended as a good has led to harmful consequences.
—Lizzie Sextro, New Ways Ministry, March 1, 2018