Bigotry's New Guise: The Danger of 'Religious Exemption' Bills

Across our nation, a pernicious fight is underway: numerous state legislatures are attempting to or have already passed discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ legislation. The recent and successful bill efforts in Missouri, Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina exemplify the furtive efforts led by Republicans to restrict the LGBTQ community's rights and dignity.

The claimed "necessity" of these bills is religious liberty. By invoking this predictably hackneyed argument, Republicans have cloaked bigotry in the form of liberty; much in the same way that religion was used as an argument for racial segregation.

Separate but equal has the same meaning it did in 1964.

What the sponsors of these bills won't tell you is that, in Missouri, Mississippi, Georgia, and North Carolina, a member of the LGBTQ community can be fired from their job or evicted from their apartment for no other reason than their identity. This isn't isolated to these four states or even a handful: 31 states are without full anti-discrimination laws for LGBTQ citizens.

While things have changed rapidly in our country, LGBT rights are still under assault, and with this trend, our nation falls further asunder.

Gay bashings are still commonplace: over 100,000 LGBQ hate crimes have been reported to the FBI since 1991.

Transgender murder is at a historic high and, worse, largely unnoticed by the general public.

Most disheartening is the fact that LGBT youth have higher rates of suicide attempts than do their heterosexual and cis-gendered counterparts. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center, through a synthesis of studies, estimates that 30 to 40% of all LGBT youth attempt suicide at least once, depending on other factors like race.

Taken together, these statistics show that each sling of a slur, each instance of state-sanctioned hostility, immeasurably harms our young people.

Our governments--no matter at what level--are meant to inspire and protect, not put down or reject.

Make no mistake: by enshrining bigotry into law, states are sending a clear signal to the LBGTQ community that we are less-than-human. When you can deny someone services, or housing, or the consequential ability to simply be who they are, you undermine the most intrinsic aspect of their humanity.

That is the primary reason that big businesses, other state governments, and even the federal government are threatening to withhold investment, travel, and funding from the states that have passed these antiquated measures. In a move against business--the usual favorite in Republican legislation--many of the Republicans supporting the bills are digging in their heels, refusing to accept the existence and humanity of their fellow citizens.

Those in the LGBTQ community are not asking for special treatment (like those pushing for these bills); we're asking for equal protection under the law.

These lawmakers need to understand that legislating against freedom for some is legislating against freedom for our nation as a whole.

These lawmakers, masquerading as freedom protectors, need to understand the plight of being an "other."

These lawmakers, and complicit constituents, must recognize the impact their actions can have on groups of people who are exhausted from the virtue of having to justify their existence; worse still, maybe some entirely understand the harm they're committing and are content with their crime.

Gov. Jay Nixon (D-MO) has already joined the ranks of Gov. Nathan Deal (R-GA) in voicing his opposition to this bill. Unfortunately, Gov. Nixon has no say in Missouri's SJR39 as it was written as a ballot measure. Gov. Phil Bryant (R-MS) and Gov. Pat McCroy (R-NC) have already signed their states' bills into law.

Gov. Nixon has shown that he has the grit and gumption to stand up to such a lousy excuse for lawmaking. But other governors, who are sure to face similar legislation, must reject these laws. Doing so will send a clear message that our state rejects bigotry and embraces love; that we'll march forward, not retreat backwards; and, finally, that religion and rights can co-exist harmoniously.

Alex is a global affairs consultant & communications professional in New York City. He has held policy-focused positions at the Clinton Global Initiative and the White House and holds a B.A. in Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis.