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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, POLITICS (oxfordre.com/politics). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 09 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

Tension has long existed in the United State between the equality claims of LGBT individuals, on the one hand, and free exercise claims by those who hold that compelling equal treatment violates their convictions, on the other. This tension increased, however, after the United States Supreme Court extended marriage equality to same-sex couples nationwide. Equality advocates hold that antidiscrimination laws simply allow LGBT individuals to enjoy the same rights as others. Many religious advocates, however, believe that they are being prohibited from living out the implications of their conscientious beliefs. Neutrality between these conflicting claims cannot be achieved, as policies that appear neutral to one group appear non-neutral to the other.

Private voluntary organizations are one site of conflict. Although private organizations should not typically be forced to reflect the values of the larger society, not all organizations are similarly situated within it. Groups such as the Boy Scouts should be able to exclude at will. Public authority does not itself always support the values of free and equal citizenship, and organizations may evolve over time as the Scouts itself has done. Organizations that exist within larger entities, however, fall into a different category. The Supreme Court was correct to uphold Hastings Law School in forcing the Christian Legal Society as a registered student organization to admit all comers. These groups also represent the values of a public entity and can continue to operate as independent entities if they so choose.

The provision of services in connection with same-sex weddings and commitment ceremonies has been another site of conflict. In Craig v. Masterpiece Cakeshop (2015), the Supreme Court found narrowly that bakery owner Phillips could refuse to create cakes for same-sex wedding celebrations, as the state of Colorado had displayed animus toward Phillips’s religious beliefs. Commercial establishments, however, are public accommodations and generally should not be allowed to discriminate against customers on the basis of their identities. Discrimination against the activity or conduct of formal commitment is also discrimination against the identity or status of a same-sex couple. These kinds of cases do not admit of neutral solutions. Some suggest that those with religious reservations could advertise that they do not serve same-sex couples, but this is reminiscent of Jim Crow in the post–Civil War South.

Jurisdictional pluralists suggest that the government designate a sphere of noninterference as a jurisdictional boundary that it will not cross. Thus individuals and associations with religious commitments would be free to pursue these interests with minimal interference. However, a prior authoritative structure must exist to define the nature and scope of this jurisdiction, just as the Constitution defines the relationships between the national government and the states. Applications for religious exemptions should not be treated more generously when they conflict with LGBT equality concerns than with equality claims based on race or gender. Although religious individuals and groups should be able to exercise their religious convictions within their areas of competence, in a liberal society and state they cannot define the limits of these areas.

Keywords: LGBT equality rights, religious exercise rights, neutrality, Boy Scouts, Christian Legal Society, Masterpiece Cakeshop, equal citizenship, LGBT politics

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