Legislative Blowback: One Year Later, States Are Trying To Undermine The Marriage Equality Ruling

Yesterday we celebrated the one-year anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark Supreme Court decision that made marriage equality the law of the land. Today we want to remind you that there’s still much work to do.

Since Obergefell, legislators in statehouses and in Congress have tried to find ways to undo this victory – all in the name of “religious liberty.” Religious liberty, of course, is a fundamental American value that guarantees us the right to believe – or not – as we see fit. But it does not justify denying committed, loving couples the right to marry, nor discriminating against them.

Americans United’s Protect Thy Neighbor project has closely monitored more than 125 bills that would permit discrimination under the cloak of religious freedom – most aimed at undermining marriage equality. We worked to defeat many of these bills, but regrettably, some still passed. And we know that we will face similar bills in the future.

Here’s a rundown of some of the bills we fought in the last year:

Inspired by Kim Davis, several bills would have allowed government clerks, judges and magistrates – employees paid with taxpayer dollars – to cite their religious beliefs to deny marriage licenses or refuse to solemnize marriages for same-sex couples. The right to marry means very little, if anything, if the government officials in your county could simply refuse you a marriage license. It would mean even less if the state could fire or dock the pay of government employees who issued licenses to same-sex couples, as some bills sought to do.

Some legislators wanted to stop their state from issuing licenses altogether – for any one at all, ever again. Never mind the many instances couples need to prove they are indeed officially married, such as to get health insurance or social security benefits. 

Some state legislators took another tack. They acknowledged state officials couldn’t discriminate against same-sex couples, but still wanted to let businesses and individuals to do so. These bills would let florists, bakers and the owners of wedding venues, for example, refuse goods and services to same-sex couples planning a wedding. Imagine picking out flowers only to have the florist later tell you she won’t take your order because of who you are marrying.

Many states saw extreme bills that would have allowed discrimination even beyond marriage licenses and celebrations. These proposals would have affected everyone, not just same-sex couples. These far-reaching bills, sometimes deceptively called “First Amendment Defense Acts,” would allow religion to be used as a justification to discriminate against nearly everyone – same-sex couples, single mothers, divorcees and anyone who has had sex outside of marriage. Under these bills, individuals, corporations, healthcare providers, taxpayer-funded social service providers and government workers could ignore laws that conflict with religious beliefs that marriage is between “one man and one woman” and “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

Georgia lawmakers passed an anti-LGBT "religious freedom" bill in April, but Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed it.

The Georgia and Virginia legislatures passed broad bills to allow discrimination, but thankfully the governors of both states vetoed them. Mississippi, however, enacted one of these broad bills, and it is already being reviewed by the federal government and challenged in court.

On the first anniversary of Obergefell, we not only celebrate but also renew our promise to keep fighting against efforts to use religion as an excuse to undermine marriage equality and engage in discrimination. Check out our Protect Thy Neighbor campaign and commit to fighting along with us.