The White House is preparing to release a “religious freedom” executive order that would extend legal protection to individuals, organizations, and businesses that discriminate, as long as they cite religion as justification. Among the main targets of this executive action are LGBTQ individuals, who already have enough discrimination to deal with.
That’s why a second federal government action this week is important: The Equality Act was reintroduced in Congress on Tuesday. It would add sexual orientation and gender identity to many of the nation’s existing anti-discrimination laws.
Such legal protections are vitally important, because people’s capacity for cruelty is immense.
Just today, there are news reports about a lawsuit against a funeral home in Mississippi that refused to pick up a body and perform a cremation because the deceased was gay. Robert Huskey had been ill, and his nephew had made arrangements with the Picayune Funeral Home the month before he died for disposition of the body and subsequent cremation. When Huskey died last year, the nursing home sent paperwork to the funeral home that named Jack Zawadski as Robert’s surviving spouse. At that point, according to the lawsuit, the funeral home told the nursing home they would not pick up and cremate the body, because the business did not “deal with their kind.”
Since the nursing home had no morgue, they insisted the body had to be removed immediately. But now they had no arrangements for that. The nephew was able to find another funeral home with a crematorium 90 miles away, in Hattiesburg, too far away to drive and pick up Huskey’s body. With the nursing home still saying his body had to be removed immediately, the family found another local funeral home (without a crematorium) to pick up the body and transport it to Hattiesburg.
People who own and work at a funeral home see every day the indescribable agony and vulnerability of someone who has just lost a spouse, a child, or a parent. They are fully aware of the emotional state new mourners are in. But rather than respecting those feelings and trying to make the ordeal less horrific as is normally the case, Picayune Funeral Home allegedly chose to exacerbate a new widower’s pain solely because he was gay.
The funeral home’s actions as described in the news and the lawsuit were monstrously cruel. Those actions, as well as others that are just plain discriminatory, would be prohibited under the Equality Act.
In another case, hospital employees in Summit, Missouri, forcibly removed patient Allen Mansell’s partner Roger Gorley from his room in handcuffs. Gorley had power of attorney to make medical decisions for Mansell, but Mansell’s brother arrived and apparently wanted Gorley to leave. Gorley’s daughter, also in the room, reported that even though the two men were arguing, only one was removed: the gay partner with power of attorney, even though the patient was saying he wanted his partner there with him.
Not even newborns are free from discrimination. In 2015, a married lesbian couple in Oak Park, Michigan, with a days-old infant went to an appointment with a pediatrician. Jami and Krista Contreras had seen the doctor, Vesna Roi, at a prenatal visit. As reported by Fox 2 Detroit:
The Contrerasas were told to make an appointment with Roi once [their daughter] arrived. The baby was born at home and when she was six days old – they went in.
But instead of seeing Dr. Roi, another doctor greeted them.
“The first thing Dr. Karam said was ‘I’ll be your doctor, I’ll be seeing you today because Dr. Roi decided this morning that she prayed on it and she won’t be able to care for [your baby],” Jami said.
“Dr. Karam told us [Dr. Roi] didn’t even come to the office that morning because she didn’t want to see us.”
Under the Equality Act, a newborn could not be denied medical care simply because the doctor disapproves of the baby’s lesbian parents.
LGBTQ people face discrimination that is wholly unjustified and, at times, breathtakingly cruel. Our nation can go in two directions to address this problem:
- Put an end to hurtful and cruel discrimination; or
- Allow this discrimination to continue, as long as the perpetrators can say they were motivated by religion.
Tomorrow, we can expect President Trump to take the second route, cheered on by the Religious Right, advancing their goal of transforming religious liberty from a shield to protect religious exercise into a sword to deprive others of their rights.