Too often, RFRA?laws can be used to allow discrimination

By Richard B. Halloran Jr.

I cannot fully express how pleased I am to see the creation and growth of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Allies (LGBTQA) Section of the State Bar of Michigan. I still recall how in 2015, I received the notice that the State Bar had created the Marijuana Law Section and remember my brother, who is gay, asking me why there wasn’t an LGBT section. I had no answer.

I contacted several of my former law school interns, who are now practicing family law and are very much involved in the fight for parental rights for members of the LGBT community, to seek their advice. With the efforts of members of the Stonewall Bar Association, the Alternative Family Committee of the Family Law Section of the State Bar, and the dedicated law clerks at the Third Circuit Court, the application for the creation of the Section was submitted to the State Bar. On July 26, 2016, the board of commissioners approved the creation of the Section.

In the fall of 2016, the dues notices went out and almost 200 individuals joined the Section. At the first LGBTQA Section Council meeting in 2017, Richard Roane was elected to become the first chair of the Section. I have the honor to follow him as chair-elect.

As we all know, the rights for members of this community finally began to be recognized in law with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v Hodges, 576 US __ (2015). This landmark case, for the first time, honored everyone’s right to love whom they choose and everyone’s right to enter into a marriage that confers all of the rights and responsibilities of marriage on any couple regardless of their sexual orientation.

Nevertheless, these hard-earned rights remain susceptible to limitation and discrimination because of the underlying factors that cause the hatred and dislike of members of the LGBTQ community. This venom is couched in terms that being LGBTQ is “unnatural” and often stems from people’s religious beliefs, especially when certain sections of the Bible and the Koran are taken out of context and used to condemn those individuals. People’s religious beliefs frequently underlie the reasoning that compels them to condemn transgendered children, or cause them to refuse to bake cakes for gay couples. This “reasoning” seems to ignore one of the main lessons of the Bible: that Jesus loved everyone. The only individuals Jesus really condemned were hypocrites.

The federal government and many state governments have recently passed laws aimed at “protecting” personally held religious beliefs. These laws are typically called the restoration of religious freedoms acts, RFRA. Yet, too often, these laws can be used by individuals to allow discrimination against others because of a “sincerely” held religious belief. These types of laws helped support slavery and outlawed miscegenation in the past.

As members of the legal community, we must question these laws and ask ourselves whether this is the government supporting specific religious views and beliefs. Do these laws, in effect, violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution by creating an establishment of religious beliefs (religion), making these beliefs paramount to every individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Religious beliefs should not be used to justify the denial of rights for the LGBTQ community or any other group. These rights are based on the inalienable standards of equality that allow every human being to pursue one’s individuality and unique path. Our laws must support every person’s freedom of expression based on the identity and talents given by our Creator. “Judge not, lest ye be judged” may seem a strange quote to be cited by a judge; but I do not judge the state of a person’s soul nor should anyone else. If that is necessary, I leave that up to the Supreme Judge.

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Richard B. Halloran Jr. is a judge of the Wayne County Circuit Court (Family Division).

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