The LGBT Struggle: Religion and Laws vs. Rights and Equality
Despite the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) recently passing gay marriage as legal and laws being put in place to protect the rights of the LGBT community, the staunch religious views of Alabama continue to hold this community down.
Location & Religion
Alabama is located in, what many people refer to as, the Bible Belt. This popular term is used to “name the region of the southern U.S.” that is highly religious, and it stretches from “West Virginia and southern Virginia to southern Missouri in the north to Texas and northern Florida in the south”. A study conducted by Gallup in 2011 surveyed how religious each state inside the Bible Belt identified themselves as. Alabama showed a result of 56% identifying as “very religious” and being included as one of eight out of ten most religious states being in the south. Southern Baptists, Methodists, and evangelical Christians are the majority in this region of the United States.
The Bible Belt region is also widely known for its conservative values. Conservatives value the union of church and state, believing that “symbols of Christian heritage should not be removed from public and government spaces” and highly oppose the idea of same-sex marriages, claiming that it “violates moral and religious beliefs”. This shows the very close-knit relationship that politics and the government share with religion, especially in the Bible Belt.
Southern Religion & LGBT
Southern Christian views are solely based on the teachings of the Holy Bible. According to the Christian interpretations of the Bible, homosexuality is seen as a sin in passages such as Romans 1:20-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Because of such views, Christian religions, such as the predominating Baptist faith, have preached ideas such as, “In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose…all forms of sexual immorality…including homosexuality”. These teachings also seep into life outside of the church, with educators having to “inform students that homosexuality is unacceptable and punishable under criminal law”. Discrimination has also occurred in the forms of a pansexual child being denied care at a religious pediatrician’s office, a nurse being fired for being transgender, employees being fired for marrying someone of the same sex or putting a picture of their partner on their desk, and even relationships going unrecognized for access to patients in religious affiliated hospitals. The close relationship between the people and legislation of Alabama to their religious views and beliefs, such as the aforementioned, has led to many violations of LGBT rights.
According to an article written for the New York Times in 2003, “Alabama is considered by gay rights activists to be one of the most resistant states to gay rights”. Not much changed throughout the years, with a study conducted in 2015 ranking Alabama as the number four most difficult states in America to be LGBT in.
When SCOTUS legalized gay marriage, two groups in Alabama urged the Alabama Supreme Court to go against the ruling. The Alabama Policy Institute and Alabama Citizens Action Program claimed that going against the SCOTUS ruling “could inspire other courts, officials, and legislatures to stand with [them]” and would provide the opportunity to “safety traditional marriage and spark a rebirth of constitutional federalism”.
One of the loudest opposing voices throughout this process was that of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. He deemed the SCOTUS ruling as a “lawless act” and calls it “the latest example of the Court’s creating of constitutional rights out of thin air in service of the immorality of the sexual revolution”.
The Movement Advancement Project studied the many issues in the U.S. with the LGBT community and got the following data:
In 2015, Alabama was shown as a part of negative equality states, having -5.00 policies in favor of the LGBT community, concerning both sexual orientation and gender identity. Then, in July 2015, a month after the United States Supreme Court voted gay marriage as legal, the following statistics were calculated for the LGBT people in the United States.
· At risk of being fired from their jobs, being kicked out of their homes, and being denied access to doctor’s offices and restaurants: 52%
· Live in states without protections from hate crimes: 29%
· Live in states that permit harmful conversion therapy for LGBT youth: 81%
· Live in states where LGBT children are not protected from discrimination in school: 57%
· Live in states where children of LGBT people are not protected from discrimination in school for having LGBT parents: 86%
· Live in states that create burdensome obstacles for transgender people who want to change their gender on a birth certificate: 72%
After the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, Alabama was one of two states that still had a negative policy tally for the LGBT community.
As of 2016, the total population of Alabama is 4,779,736 with 103,533, or 2.8% of the adult population, being LGBT. The overall tally for LGBT-related policies in Alabama is 0 of 35. The following data details this tally of policies.
· Marriage and Relationship Recognition: 2/3
· Adoption and Parenting: 2/9
· Non-Discrimination: -1/8
· Safe Schools: -1/4
· Health and Safety: -1/8
· Identity Documents: -1/3
Along with these policies, 0% of LGBT people in Alabama are protected with non-discrimination ordinances covering private employers for sexual orientation or gender identity.
Bills and Laws
Since Judge Moore tried to issue his anti-gay custody ruling in 2002, the legislators of Alabama have stepped up to his level of LGBT opposition. They have made efforts to do things such as filing a bill that would ban LGBT-related books, prohibiting LGBT people from adopting children, or sending out an amendment to ban same-sex marriage. All of these proposals were found to be rooted in conservative Christian values.
In early March of 2015, The Alabama House passed Bill 56, also known as the Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act.
Once passed, this bill protected judges, ministers, and other officials from having to perform marriages that didn’t agree with their own religious views and from getting in trouble for refusing to officiate the marriages.
Also in 2015, an Alabama legislator named Chris England made efforts to pass a bill to prohibit the discrimination of LGBT people, which ended up failing. On the other hand, attorney A. Eric Johnston claimed that, “State laws need to be enacted to protect Alabamians”. Johnston also called for protection of opponents of gay marriage, immediate action to “offer protection against potential infringements on religious believers”, bills for religious child-placement agencies, and a bill to allow private business to decline service to LGBT customers.
A year after Bill 56 was passed, the Alabama Policy Institute, the Alabama Citizens Action Program, and Elmore County’s probate judge put forth petitions for the Alabama Supreme Court to defy SCOTUS and make same-sex marriage illegal in the state. These petitions were dismissed, despite the fight the organizations put up for them.
Daniel Redman, after spending two years working in Boston on the legal side of an LGBT civil rights organization, heard of “the nightmare of discrimination and violence that LGBT people face in Alabama”. Upon hearing this, he decided to visit Alabama and see for himself. Through interviews and travelling throughout the state, Redman’s most eye-opening revelation was “the degree to which religion lies at the heart of the LGBT experience”. He found that religion was at the heart of the LGBT equality opposition in legal and cultural terms. Redman also asked people of Alabama how they felt about the separation of church and state, to which the majority response was that it couldn’t be done. After his time spent in Alabama, Redman realized that despite religion being a main source of oppression for the LGBT community, it had also become a “sanctuary of affirmation and safety in a hostile culture”, helping to grow community throughout the LGBT people of Alabama.
Redman had heard of the awful issues for the LGBT community in Alabama after reading Bob Moser’s article in Out Magazine entitled “Unsweet Homo Alabama”. Moser’s article described his shock of moving to Alabama from the West Coast as an openly gay man. He told of people being perplexed when finding out that he is gay, having to run from young boys’ hollers of, “Hey, faggot!” through his own neighborhood, and visiting vigil’s for two gay men who were killed in less than two weeks. Moser then brings to light the horrific murder of Billy Jack Gaither of Coosa County in February of 1999. He described it as, “one of the nastiest hate crimes in recent history…[he] was slashed with a pocketknife, beaten with an ax handle, and burned on a pile of tires by two guys who did the deed because ‘he was queer’”. Then, in 2004, Scotty Joe Weaver was the victim of a similar crime, by being “bound…to a chair in his trailer…where he was beaten, strangled, stabbed, mutilated, and partially decapitated…[and] his body was then dumped in the woods and set on fire”.
Although we are now in 2016, the 21st century, the following headlines are still popping up on newspaper websites like Huffington Post.
· “Patricia Todd, Alabama’s Out State Representative Says Her Pro-Gay Pledge Inspired Death Threats” – January 28, 2015
· “Politician wants arrests after gays marry” – January 25, 2015
· “How Alabama Tried To ‘Erase’ This Gay Man’s Marriage” – February 13, 2014
· “Alabama’s Spanish Fort High School Slammed For ‘Man, That’s Gay’ Football Banner” – September 6, 2012
Alabama was ranked as the fourth most difficult state to be LGBT in due to our “lack of policies in favor of LGBT people while unfavorable policies are passed”, being in the center of the “same-sex marriage debate”, and support of religious freedom by condemnation of personal freedom. Laws support religious teachings in schools and hospitals, keeping the Ten Commandments in legislative buildings, and many other one-sided views. Our religious legislation has yet to realize that they are stealing rights from groups of people (“thou shall not steal”), murdering them physically and mentally (“thou shall not murder”), and stripping away their basic rights as citizens of the state and humans of the planet. Strives have been made throughout the U.S., and partially in Alabama, but there is still a very far way to go towards equality for all.
Despite strides made for the equality of LGBT people in Alabama, our deeply rooted religious views may always stand in the way of certain aspects of their human rights. The long history of Christian teachings in the south has led to the Bible being more than just a resource in church, but for a resource in every day life. Once people realize that religion is a personal trait that they should feel secure in for themselves, they might become capable of de-glazing their eyes to see people as who they really are: people.
*This article was previously submitted as a thorough research assignment. The editorial team has shortened the word count of the original article to condense the piece.
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Featured Image Via Unsplash/ Matt Popovich