By Kirsten Bokenkamp
At first glance, the Hobby Lobby case – expected to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court any day now – doesn’t have much to do with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender population, other than the fact that many LGBT individuals need access to contraception. But, the truth is that the dangerous implications of this case for the LGBT community go well beyond the surface.
Here are the basics of the case: The Affordable Care Act requires private businesses to provide employees with healthcare plans that include preventative benefits (including FDA approved contraception). Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties have argued that being required to offer certain types of contraception as part of their health care plans violates their religious freedom under the First Amendment.
Religious freedom is a fundamental American value, but it doesn’t give us the right to harm others. This is the first time the court will consider whether the Constitution or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, protecting an individual’s exercise of religion, applies to for-profit companies and their owners. If the Supreme Court decides that corporations are people with a right to refuse to comply with health-care mandates based on religious beliefs, the slope allowing companies to discriminate (for any number of reasons) at their own discretion would be way too slippery. Today it is refusing access to certain types of birth control, but, as HRC notes, tomorrow, it could include refusing access to certain health services that “promote homosexuality” (for example, drugs that treat HIV, or access to family planning for same-sex parents) or acknowledge the health needs of transgender individuals. The harmful implications are too numerous to count.
If the Supreme Court sides with Hobby Lobby and Conestoga, the ripple effect could be quite damaging to the LGBT population, even beyond access to healthcare. A plausible next step would be to allow business owners the right to refuse service to certain type of people based on their religious beliefs. This ruling could also potentially have an impact on workplace nondiscrimination laws.
Even as we celebrate the anniversary of the DOMA ruling this week – and how far the nation has come toward marriage equality in the last year, the Hobby Lobby case is a stark reminder that we have a lot of work to do to ensure that LGBT individuals and families receive equal protection under our state and federal laws. We hope the Court makes the right decision and keeps our country moving in the direction of fairness and equality.