The Hobby Lobby Contraception Case and the Rights of LGBT Individuals
While it may not be obvious at first glance, there is a clear intersection between the Hobby Lobby case on contraception now being decided by the Supreme Court and the rights of LGBT individuals. If the Supreme Court accepts that a business owner has the right to pick and choose what contraception they will cover for their employees based on their own religious beliefs, the obvious next step is to allow that business owner to determine which customers they will serve based on their religious beliefs.
One person making these arguments in the name of "religious freedom" and supporting ultra-right wing organizations that are promoting them is University of Virginia Law Professor Douglas Laycock. The simple form of the argument that appeals to some is if you don't like the health care your employer is offering, work somewhere else; or if the business doesn't want to serve you, just shop somewhere else.
One would have thought that we settled the issue of whether a business could serve you with the public accommodations decisions related to the United States Constitution. However, Laycock was one of the signers of a recent letter to Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona asking her to sign SB 1062, the bill that was considered to be rabidly anti-gay and would have allowed businesses to not serve gay people. The Bill Laycock support was opposed by, among others, both of Arizona's Republican United States Senators, and even some of those in the Arizona legislature who admitted they didn't understand the bill and its ramifications when they passed it. The letter Laycock signed supported the purposeful misreading of the bill stated in the sentiment of Alliance Defending Freedom senior Council Doug Napier who said:
The government has no business telling its citizens what they can't say or what they must say, and it must be prevented from punishing its citizens for their ideas and beliefs as has occurred to people in other states. That's all SB 1062 is about.
Laycock is a supporter of both the Alliance Defending Freedom -- a right-wing, anti-gay organization that helped craft Arizona's SB 1062 bill, as well as being one of the top lawyers for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a right-wing group supporting the owners of the Hobby Lobby store and their court case. In that case what Laycock is supporting while he may couch his views in fancy legal terms is the right of the owners of Hobby Lobby to determine which contraceptive devices they will include in the health insurance they are making available for their employees in contrast to the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, which guarantees access to coverage for all approved FDA contraceptive devices. Walter Dellinger, acting Solicitor General in the Clinton administration explains in an op-ed in the Washington Post that the result of what the owners of Hobby Lobby are asking to do is, "Selectively denying insurance coverage for contraceptive methods an employer considers sinful effectively makes the employer a party to a woman's medical consultations."
Individuals like Laycock are often insidious. They claim to want people to have rights such as marriage-equality, and then at the same time attempt to create a legal loophole for discrimination to thwart full equality for LGBT people. They use a freedom of religion argument to create the legal opportunity to undermine the fight for full and inclusive equality for LGBT people in our society. It is clear that the use of these legal loopholes must concern both the LGBT community and those who support a woman's right to control her own health care.
There is another issue that needs to be focused on with regard to Laycock. He happens to be the husband of University of Virginia (UVA) President Teresa A. Sullivan. I support his right to his views. But some consider his efforts to be questionable because he is paid by the University of Virginia, a public university using taxpayer dollars. Be that as it may what I want to know is where the president of the University of Virginia stands on these issues that her husband is a leading spokesperson for. The University of Virginia continues its effort to promote an "LGBT friendly" brand for the university and campus. In recent years, efforts at UVA to hire a full-time LGBT program coordinator have increased the university's standing to 3.5 out of 5 stars on the Campus Pride organization's "LGBT friendly equality ratings index." It is my understanding that the university has yet to speak out on the efforts of the president's spouse to promote these anti-LGBT and anti-woman positions. It would be appropriate for President Sullivan to separate herself and the University from her husband's positions if she doesn't agree with them or feels that the university must not be attached to such positions.
If she doesn't do that one has to question her values and how they impact the students at the university and it is something that donors and alumni should be made aware of.
This article was first published in Huffington Post.