I’m going to start this out with a full disclosure. I’m a former employee of Hobby Lobby, I’m a man, I do not have children, and I am gay. The store I worked in had a Jewish woman as a supervisor, a Buddhist working the sales floor, a Pagan (me), and at least two openly gay employees.
On Monday 30 June 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States delivered their ruling on the case involving Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods. These companies had challenged the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that companies pay for contraceptives. The ruling effects a limited number of contraceptives, “morning after” pills and IUDs, not contraception in general. And of course abortion. The USAToday has a list of examples of the contraceptives that this ruling does and does not effect.
Wednesday morning at work, a customer with whom I regularly have political conversations with came in. I noticed that he had a limp and asked him about it. That turned towards talking about health care, in particular the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). This man is relatively intelligent, compared to man of the conversations I have with customers, he is very intelligent. He’s a small business owner and a Christian. He agrees with Hobby Lobby and other companies that are owned (or the majority shareholders are) by Christians should not be required to cover contraceptives in their insurance policies. Saying that people who wish to use prescribed contraceptives should pay for them with private insurance or out of pocket. (Note: the majority of Hobby Lobby employees work less than 30 hours a week, thus not qualifying for insurance coverage in most states. They are also paid minimum wage or slightly hiring, thus not being able to afford private coverage.) He went so far as to say that “he shouldn’t pay for these whores.” I looked him dead in the eye and asked him if my sister-in-law is a whore because she uses birth control pills to regulate her menstrual cycle.
These kinds of conversations are happening all over the place right now, of that I am sure. I see the memes and discussion threads on my friends’ Facebook pages. I’ve seen articles in the local and national papers that come in at work. People have been following this case carefully and continue to follow the outcome now that SCOTUS has made their decision, a decision of a 5-4 vote.
As a gay man without children, it seems odd to some that I might have a strong opinion on this case. I have a strong opinion because I am a person living in the United States. I have sisters, nieces, and female friends that are effected by this decision. I am effected by the precedence this ruling makes.
Already companies have been filing suits or briefs requesting religious exemption from other Federal laws. This ruling can and will open the door to cases where companies, privately held or otherwise, want to use their religious beliefs to have legal discrimination. We’ve already seen, since the 2013 SCOTUS ruling on DOMA section 3, private owned companies seeking to deny marriage services (including wedding cakes) to same-sex couples. With this current ruling from SCOTUS these companies and others may have more ammunition in those cases.
Listeners of my community radio program Lavender Hill, have heard me speak out on these situations. I do feel that a privately owned business, single person or single family ownership, that has less than 15 or so employees should be able to determine what kind of clientele they serve. That freedom, however, ends when it encroaches on the civil rights of others. A company or business should not be allowed to discriminate against people of other races, national origins, or other similar criteria. But, those same companies may have a design that would preclude them seeking to hire person that does not fit that design – for example the YWCA (a large institution) may not want to hire a man to teach aerobics or some such as it may interfere with business. A “gentlemen’s club” may not want to hire a male exotic dancer, etc, etc.
That said, I am a realist. If we allow companies to pick and choose willy-nilly (or after long consideration) what “kinds” of people they will hire then we open the door to discrimination of all kinds. It may be a faux-news site, but I have seen articles where privately owned restaurants are seeking a religious exemption to not serve black people. Many feel that the SCOTUS ruling on the religious exemption in Obamacare regarding contraception coverage will open the door for companies to seek such exemption in the yet-to-be-Federalized Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA).
According to a TalkingPointsMemo from Wednesday, “Without a robust religious exemption this expansion of hiring rights will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom,” according to a letter of intent sent by 14 faith and business leaders to President Obama. This letter was sent response to Obama’s June announcement to use his executive power to require Federal contractors to provide an environment of non-discrimination for LGBT employees. Though the letter did not mention the Hobby Lobby decision, the timing of the letter and its intent makes it clear that these faith and business leaders wish to use this SCOTUS decision to sway the Administration.
I’m a man, I’m gay, but I am person. SCOTUS is granted the legal right to make decisions that may have direct effect on me and others in the United States. When others in the United States seek to use those decision to have discriminatory effect on other citizens then they, in this case business, are over stepping their bounds. Fine, Hobby Lobby and certain other privately owned multi-million (multi-billion) dollar companies have won their case with SCOTUS and do not have to follow the Obamacare requirement to provide coverage for certain forms of contraceptives, including abortion. That does not open the doors, on moral and ethical grounds, for other companies to apply for religious exemptions when it comes to hiring and firing of people that they perceive to be gay, people that are of another national origin or race. Etc. Etc.