Looking Forward: Has a Recent Narrow Supreme Court Ruling Widened the Inequality Gap?

LGBTOn June 4, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled, with a 7-2 majority vote, in favor of a Colorado baker, who refused to create a wedding cake for a local gay couple because of sincere religious beliefs. In its opinion, the Court based the baker’s victory on the improper treatment he received from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. “The Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ case violated the State’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint.” Read the full opinion here

What about Texas?

The Supreme Court gave little direction on how their decision should be applied going forward, other than to state the following:

The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue respect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.

A trend likely to result from this ruling is the institution of new laws similar to Texas’ House Bill 3859. Effective as of September 1, 2017, HB 3859 generally allows a child welfare services provider in Texas to refuse to provide services that conflict with their religious beliefs.” Practically speaking, faith-based adoption agencies are able to reject the applications of gay couples hoping to adopt in Texas. It also permits child welfare providers to place abused and neglected children in religion-based schools and refuse to contract with agencies that do not share their religious beliefs.

Concern for LGBTQ Rights Across the Board

Nine U.S. states currently allow state-funded, religiously affiliated adoption agencies to deny gay couples based on religious beliefs. In addition to Texas, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Virginia all have similar laws. In contrast, only nine states currently prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in matters concerning adoption and foster care. See Graphic

This ruling also has many LGTBQ activists in fear of even farther-reaching implications on the religious legislature and the right to religious refusals. “While the court didn’t issue a blanket protection for religious refusals, Monday’s decision will only empower lawmakers who favor such measures to file more in the future,” said Rebecca Robertson, chief program officer for Equality Texas.

It’s a Waiting Game

Shockwaves will continue to be felt from the Supreme Court’s ruling for years to come, and its full implications are not yet known. But, based on the current laws and regulations being instituted, including Texas’ HB 3859, religious legislation is seemingly on the rise.