“Moral” Lawbreaking: Wyoming’s Anti-Gay HB 135

Wyoming GOP Rep Cheri Steinmetz just proposed legislation targeting LGBTQ people for discrimination - HB 135

Remember the lyrics of that old cowboy song, “Don’t Fence Me In”?

Oh give me land lots of land under starry skies above
don’t fence me in
Let me ride through the wide
open spaces that I love
don’t fence me in.
I found those “wide open spaces”–they’re between Wyoming legislators’ ears.

A bill has been introduced into the Wyoming state legislature aimed at legalizing discrimination against the gay community–but only if the discriminatory behavior is motivated by religion. House Bill 135, also called the Government Nondiscrimination Act, would legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ community, so long as the discrimination is done for religious or “moral” reasons.

According to Second Nexus (a publication with which I am unfamiliar),

Specifically, the bill would forbid the government from taking action against any “person,” including public and private corporations and entities, if that person acts on a “religious belief or moral conviction” that marriage is the union of one man and woman, or that “‘man’ and ‘woman’ mean an individual’s biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy genetics at the time of birth.”

The bill is remarkable for the breadth of organizations it allows to discriminate on the basis of religious freedom. “If passed, HB 135 would allow government employees, licensed professionals (like teachers or counselors) and private businesses to discriminate,” said Sabrina King, Policy Director at the ACLU of Wyoming. Under the bill, even hospitals and doctors would be allowed to deny routine health care services. (The bill does not exempt the provision of “emergency medical treatment necessary for treatment of an illness or injury.”)

The bill does not define “moral conviction” or “religious belief,” nor does it specify what would constitute evidence of the genuine existence of such a belief.

Think of all the other possible applications of this approach: all those libertarians who have a “moral conviction” that taxes are theft could assert that conviction as a defense to nonpayment. Mormon men who still believe in plural marriage could cite their religious beliefs when marrying several underage girls. I understand that the Santeria religion requires ritual, public animal sacrifices…Evidently, however, the only religious and moral beliefs that deserve legal protection in Wyoming are those that require marginalizing and diminishing LGBTQ people.

Even Justice Scalia, a notoriously anti-gay, pro-religion jurist, understood that allowing religious exemptions from laws of general application would constitute a direct assault on the rule of law.

I actually have a strong moral objection to seeing my tax dollars used to pay lawmakers who introduce measures that are patently unconstitutional–not to mention hateful and counterproductive–whether those public officials are in Wyoming, Indiana or the White House.

[Originally published at SheilaKennedy.net on February 23, 2017]

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net. For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..

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