Oklahoma bill to discriminate

Marriage licenses, doing it wrong edition!

The Oklahoma House has passed a bill that would require all marriage licenses to be signed by clergy. This is a direct attack on separation of church and state: it effectively requires people who want legal benefits which are administered by the state to interact with religion. This is doing it backwards – we ought to be working on separating civil and religious marriage, not further conflating them.

Now it’s true that I fought for the right to sign marriage licenses in Virginia as a clergy person, and I would do so again. I did that as a stop gap, because it’s one of the ways “real” religions are recognized and because until we get to a better separation of civil and religious marriage people want their clergy to be able to do that. It’s unfortunate that the option of having a civil license signing is seen as a “lesser” option, but that’s part of the problem. However, even at the time I said that I didn’t think this was the way it should be, and that I advocated separating civil and religious marriage celebrations.

What’s really nasty about the bill in Oklahoma is that the originators say that they are concerned about protecting the delicate feelings of the public servants who have to do marriage licenses. Apparently the mere possibility of being confronted with two actual gay people is deeply disturbing to these public servants. In reality, this is a way to increase discrimination by pushing a public function off onto private individuals – clergy – who have a legal right to discriminate.

The spurious explanation makes this bill even more disgusting. As a clergywoman, as the wife of someone who served his country for many years, and as a regular citizen, I find that handwaving defense egregiously offensive to the very idea of civil society.

Public servants have to be prepared to put their personal scruples aside in a multitude of ways. That’s why it’s called public service – you have to serve the public, not just do what you want to do for the people you find acceptable.

I just went through the process of getting my Ohio driver’s license. The public servants who do that work have to deal with lots and lots of people from all walks of life. In the relatively short time I spent in those offices, I saw people who looked like me and people who didn’t. There was a man with an offensive (to me) t-shirt and a woman wearing hijab. There were people who didn’t speak English and people who didn’t share my standards of personal hygiene. And all of them, every single one, deserves the exact same standard of consideration and service from those public servants.

And the folks in the driver’s license offices have a relatively straightforward job. If you choose to work in the court system, you’re going to be dealing with a lot of people who are there especially because they’ve done something that society considers unacceptable – and I don’t just mean smoking pot or driving while black. You’re going to be dealing with felons and deadbeat parents and all kinds of people. Even if you only ever work in the marriage office you’re going to be dealing with people who are on their third or sixth marriage, you’re going to be dealing with some guy in his 70s marrying an 18 year old where you can’t tell who is taking advantage of whom, you’re going to be dealing with some guy who has been divorced by his previous two wives for violent abuse but has found another woman who is convinced that he’s changed, and so on and so forth, day in and day out.

If you go into public service, you get to serve the public. No exceptions. You don’t get to put your feelings or personal preferences into the judgment space. It’s your job to see that the paperwork is filled out correctly, that they’ve got supporting documentation, and that everything is above board and legal according to the laws as they are currently constituted. When those laws change, you change with them. If you want them changed, you go out there on your private time just like every other citizen and do what you can. But at work you take your feelings and you put them someplace else and you serve the public.

This bill is especially insidious because there is so much potential for collateral damage. How are atheists supposed to get married? How are Catholic divorcees supposed to get married? Yes, most people would be able to find a friendly UU minister or somebody similar, but why should they have to? In order to get the state-administered legal benefits of marriage, they should be able to go to the state, file paperwork, and get a signed license.

Deep down, I don’t think this bill is really about protecting public servants’ feelings. I think that is an excuse, and the lack of consideration for the collateral damage is one indication that the real motivation is simple bigotry. Whether or not this bill passes the Oklahoma Senate and is implemented, we will see many, many more attempts like it because this is the modern-day equivalent of the attempts to avoid desegregation by closing the public schools.

This bill is nothing less than an attack on the fundamentals of civil society. Our society is trying to evolve to afford more basic civility to all its members, and as that evolution takes hold, one of the only possible responses by the fundamentalists is to try to tear down civil society as a whole. We cannot allow that to happen; as more of these attempts occur, we need to recognize them for what they are, call them out, and stop them in their tracks.

Cuccinelli v All Acts of Love And Pleasure

My religion encourages oral sex.

Ken Cuccinelli, candidate for governor, wants to outlaw it.

Why am I not the new face of the brave fight for religious liberty?

Cuccinelli for Governor: Because oral sex sucks!
Image courtesy of the blogger’s partner (in crime, apparently). If you copy, please link back.

Seriously, though: Ken Cuccinelli, the current attorney general of Virginia and Republican candidate for governor has just launched a new website as part of his campaign that argues in favor of a law which criminalizes oral and anal sex between consenting adults in private.

This law is currently unconstitutional as a result of a Supreme Court ruling. But Cuccinelli is arguing that it’s a vital part of protecting children from sex offenders, which makes no sense. Moreover, it’s offensive to me as a woman, a Wiccan, and a feminist.

The actual case where the law was declared unconstitutional as a result of SCOTUS precedent involved at least one seventeen year old. I agree that there’s a metric crapton of potential problems with someone in hir teens having sex with someone in hir 40s or 50s. But if Cuccinelli has a problem with 17 year olds having sex, he could try to raise the age of consent, or prove that the situation was not consensual. That’s not what he’s doing. He’s specifically argued in favor of keeping the parts of the law (that are unconstitutional) that ban private consensual non-commercial adult (above the age of consent) behavior.

Cuccinelli basically says that the law won’t be used to prosecute adults doing what they want. But there’s no reason to believe him. That’s exactly what the law says, and in the law, you live and die (or convict and set free) based on what the law actually, very specifically, says. What kind of prosecutor argues that on the one hand, he desperately must have a law that criminalizes a wide range of behavior, but then promises that on the other hand he won’t prosecute what the law says, even when that’s what he’s actually doing? Not to mention, what kind of fiscal conservative says that it’s vitally important to spend precious government time and money to defend laws that have already been declared unconstitutional?

The homophobic kind, that’s who.

From Think Progress:

In fact, Cuccinelli is a major reason that the provisions of this particular law governing non-consensual sex were left vulnerable to court challenge. In 2004, a bipartisan group in the Virginia General Assembly backed a bill that would have brought the law in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling. They proposed to eliminate the Crimes Against Nature law’s provisions dealing with consenting adults in private and leaving in place provisions relating to prostitution, public sex, and those other than consenting adults. Cuccinelli opposed the bill in committee and helped kill it on the Senate floor.

In 2009, he told a newspaper why he supported restrictions on the sexual behavior of consenting adults: “My view is that homosexual acts, not homosexuality, but homosexual acts are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong. And I think in a natural law based country it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that. … They don’t comport with natural law.” As a result of Cuccinelli’s homophobia, the law’s text remains unchanged a decade after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

While Cuccinelli tries to spin his efforts as “Virginia’s appeal to preserve a child-protection statute,” this amounts to little more than his attempt to restore the state’s unconstitutional ban on oral sex.

This matters because it shows that Cuccinelli is willing to fight a dead letter over a culture war issue. It matters because he’s willing to mislead people with moral panic over child endangerment to do it. It matters because this anti-sex agenda is what Cuccinelli really thinks is worth working on, and it’s what he thinks will make him win. You’d better believe it’s what he’ll act on if he does win.

His culture-warrior stance runs a lot deeper than just oral sex. He’s been using his current office to move heaven and earth to restrict reproductive health rights in Virginia. In addition, his running running mate is one EW Jackson, a Christian pastor, whose aggressively anti-non-Christian attitudes and comments have been covered quite seriously at the Wild Hunt and with an appropriately large dash of sarcasm at Wonkette.

And quite frankly, my understanding of Wicca really does validate all kinds of consensual sex. It’s right there in the Charge of the Goddess:

All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.

The idea of “acts of love and pleasure” is a very potent way of expressing my feminist ethic of consent to sex. I’m not going to consent to something that’s not pleasurable to me. If I can’t consent – if I can’t engage in love and pleasure – then whatever’s happening isn’t sex; it’s sexual assault, abuse, battery, or rape.

Cuccinelli is actually making a version of the Two Boxes argument about what kinds of sex are permissible and not permissible. Nearly all “slippery slope” arguments about marriage equality are versions of this. (Cuccinelli gets double Conservative SexHater Points for pretending that outlawing consensual adult oral sex is a way of “protecting our children.” Score!)

The Two Boxes argument says that the Christian god has designated certain kinds of sex as “good” and other kinds as “bad,” and that there is no other possible way to differentiate between allowable and not-allowable actions in our secular civil law. Therefore, if you allow one “bad” thing, you’re allowing all “bad” things. Slippery slope: people will gay-marry their dogs! The Two Boxes argument is extremely simplistic. By contrast, my ethics – both my secular civil reasoning and my religious understanding – tell me that we can draw a different boundary based on enthusiastic consent.

In the rest of this post, I am going to talk about the connections between my civil feminist understanding and my Wiccan understanding. There’s already been a lot of great feminist explication of this ethic of consent. I think that we should determine our secular, civil law on the basis of secular, civil reasoning. I am not trying to substitute my Wiccan standards for Cuccinelli’s Christian standards. I am trying to explain why my Wiccan standards coincide with my secular feminist standards. With that in mind, Cuccinelli’s efforts really are offensive not just on a human rights and feminist level but to me as a person with a different religion with different standards.

I think that the idea “acts of love and pleasure” contains the seeds of the concept of affirmative, enthusiastic consent. This concept differentiates between acceptable and unacceptable sex on the basis that some people can’t engage in love and pleasure. That might be because they’re not people: lampposts, dogs, box turtles; it might be because they’re incapable of consent: under the age of consent, handicapped, intoxicated, etc. Either way, the standard concepts of “love” and “pleasure” don’t apply.

Ultimately, my understanding relies on the idea that sex is a cooperative activity that is done by partners together. Sex is not a thing that men do to women as objects. Sex is not a thing that women have that men try to get or take. Sex isn’t just about men and women. It’s about people, and their consent, to acts of love and pleasure.

Those ideas, deep down, are what scares Cuccinelli, and his fellow culture warriors, spitless, pun intended:

People – consent – love – and pleasure

If you care about those things, whether for civil or religious reasons, or especially both, then you ought to find Cuccinelli’s latest actions reprehensible.

PS: Regarding the first statement: There. Now you can start blaming me, right after the makers of Witch-sploitation movies, for causing people to claim that they’re Wiccan when they don’t have the first clue what Wicca really is.

ETA: Think Progress also gives an example of a sheriff’s department in Louisiana enforcing a similar “anti-sodomy” statute which is equally unconstitutional and hence unenforceable. This proves that “unenforceable” does not prevent officers from arresting and detaining people. I don’t know the details of how arrest records work, but they may be different from court records. Certainly the news often reports that people were arrested on offenses in the past, and job applications may ask if the applicant has been arrested, not just about convictions. I hope I don’t have to spell out all the implications.

Back after interregnum

I’ve been terribly sick this summer, which is why I’ve been so quiet, even with all of the important things going on in our society. I hope to get back to more regular posting soon, although now that I’m better, my dissertation is going to have to be the focus of my attention again, so I’m still figuring things out.

For the time being, here’s a bit from my latest at Pagan Square, on how I don’t want Orson Scott Card’s idea of “redemption,” as displayed in his lesser-known novel Pastwatch, nor do I want his religion to control the civil liberties of QUILTBAG people:

This for me is a demonstration of how all civil rights are bound up together. I have no idea if Card thinks the actions of his protagonists in Pastwatch would be moral and ethical. I do not know if he has been active against Pagan civil rights directly. But I do know that here in the real world, he has used his religion as justification to try to control the way others live and love, in direct contravention of the tenets of my religion. I think that his actions and his writing together demonstrate the deep connections between a willingness to disregard or ride roughshod over others’ religion and attempts to control others’ actions and bodies in pursuit of their definition of “redemption” – something we as Pagans should be especially sensitive to.

Read the whole thing.

Balancing, moving to the light

This week the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about striking down DOMA and Prop 8 in favor of marriage equality. I concentrated some of my Ostara work on this subject, and I will be taking part in an interfaith event to show support for marriage equality. There will be another event the night before. If you can come out and show support, that’s wonderful. If not, please consider directing some energy to this important event. Here are three ways you might join in this work:

Include support for marriage equality in your intention for either Ostara or the full moon:

The world is poised at the turning of the year towards increasing light, with warmth that will nurture many new lives. Let our symbols of new life in seeds and eggs remind us not just of physical fertility, but the possibility of new life brought about by love. In our own lives, let our love make space for new arrivals and open the way for new possibilities.

Pray to Columbia:

Hail Columbia, matron goddess of your district and of our government! You represent our highest ideals of freedom and liberty, calling us to fuller expression of equality. Columbia, help us change our laws to honor all forms of partnership, giving all acts of love and pleasure equal status under law.

Pray to Justice:

Justice, be not blind, but look into our hearts with piercing gaze to discern the ill intent of those who would rule over us with theocratic mandates full of hate. Redress the wrongs and balance the scales to provide equal recognition for all partnerships formed in love.

Bonus: as Hecate suggested, if you’re in the area, you might also consider visiting the Cyrus Cylinder, one of the first human rights documents in history, and empowering it as a symbol of the progress we’ve made and hope to continue making.

Recognizing reality: women in combat

The only reasonable response to the fact that the armed forces are dropping their ban on women in combat positions is: It’s about damn time.

Women have been exposed to combat in various ways for 20-odd years, depending on how you count. Certainly since September 11th women have been in a war with no front lines. More importantly, they’ve been a vital asset for working with civilian women in the population. The ban on women in combat has been a polite fiction, a way of soothing peoples’ consciences at the cost of harming the careers of military women.

I agree with Hecate and Echidne that I wish we didn’t have wars and combat, and I’m sorry that anyone is fighting in them. But while we do, one of the very least things we can do is be darn well honest about what women are doing in those situations.

Of course the religious right is losing their collective minds over this, but that means they haven’t been paying attention to reality in the meantime. I’m also particularly amused that this happens just a few weeks after the Military Officers Association of America, a private organization that my dear spouse joined for the job-networking benefits after he gets out of the service, announced that the winner of its annual essay contest was a piece about how women shouldn’t be in combat. It was full of the usual essentialist tripe; something about women as the creators of life shouldn’t be in a situation of death really rubbed me the wrong way, and another part basically saying that America wouldn’t have been able to handle it if pictures of a woman’s dead body (possibly with, gasp, private parts showing!) were shown on TV made me convinced that the author hasn’t actually looked at American TV in the last 20 years.

Very little will change because of this, almost certainly nothing that your average civilian will notice. Still, it’s a step in the right direction, and it will matter to the women who have been held back because of it. So: it’s about damn time.

Now we need to fix the problems some of those servicemembers, male and female, face when their spouses aren’t recognized as spouses. DADT repeal was a good step – that was also recognizing a basic reality. Now we should treat their families on equal footing. DOMA has to go.

QUILTBAG chilled

We’ve all heard that the Old Testament calls homosexuality an “abomination,” right? It’s the homophobes’ favorite clobber verse. One of the best responses to this is to point out that this comes in the midst of a long list of other things which were also forbidden under the laws established in Leviticus, notably the dietary restrictions of Judaism. If you actually study the material, it emerges that there are two kinds of restrictions against “forbidden” things being distinguished: one is sort of like civil law, while the other is a religious objection. Things that are religiously disallowed are described with the word translated by King James’ merry band of religious demagogues as “abomination.”

One of the strongest arguments that liberal Christians use is that since the dietary laws of ancient Judaism are no longer observed by contemporary Christians, perhaps some of those other religio-cultural restrictions ought to be reconsidered, too. Conservative Christians have been arguing against this in various ways for a long time. But now there’s a new argument I’ve never heard before:

Refrigeration.

Yup, somebody actually went there, wrote articles of incorporation, and elected himself Mayor of There.

Via Right Wing Watch, you can hear a conservative Christian arguing that refrigeration is what makes it not a sin to eat shellfish et al. anymore.

You see, conservative Christians like to argue that 1. their God is way cool because he gave his followers religious laws that were actually secretly hygiene regulations to protect them against food poisoning and 2. their certainty about why these things were demanded by their God is what allows them to split those two categories of civil and religious law into three categories: civil law, religious law that we don’t have to follow, and religious law that it is our God-given duty to impose on all our fellow citizens by any means necessary.

This is the first time I’ve heard that argument flipped around in this particular way, though. It’s probably part of the continuing struggle of these folks to find secular justifications for their religious positions. (See also: so-called intelligent design, etc.) Just for giggles, let’s follow it to its (pseudo) logical conclusion: if you could invent something that would make being queer no longer a health risk, would these Christians then say being queer was a-okay?

Never in a million years. (Until, of course, the next time that their position changes and they decide that they’ve always been at war with Eastasia, I mean, supporting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s ideals and against contraception.)

I’m writing about this not just because it’s laugh-out-loud ridiculous, but because it highlights a really evil form of hypocrisy that homophobes engage in. Homophobes and hate-peddlers create social conditions that make it hazardous to be queer and then use that as evidence that they were right all along. They do this all the time and in some really despicable ways.

Aside from all the other things that caused social scientists to shred it into conveniently toilet-paper-sized pieces, that’s something else that’s wrong with the Regnerus study. Even if it had been a well-designed study, if it found that kids raised in QUILTBAG households had adverse outcomes, that wouldn’t be some kind of truth handed down from a mountain. It would be a reflection of our current social and cultural milieu. If we denigrate certain people, maybe that makes their lives – and their kids’ lives – harder, don’t you think? And maybe if we start treating these folks like full human beings with equal civil rights, things will get better…

So actually, there is a way to “refrigerate” being queer, to turn it from something potentially hazardous to your health into just another part of daily life: stop the lying homophobes from continuing to denigrate their fellow human beings.

It’s not QUILTBAG folks who need to chill out. It’s the haters.

At PaganSquare: Who do Pagans boycott?

Over at Forging Futures in the PaganSquare, I argue that boycotts are a magical tool that we ought to be using in self-defense a lot more often.

Cry me a river about your bumper sticker

In a piece at Salon, writer (and ZOMG secret liberal) Lizz Schumer describes coming face-to-face with her family’s conservative worldview:

We agreed to disagree that afternoon, and the bumper sticker lives in my desk drawer to this day because I know what’s important to me. I don’t hold my political opinions like a sword, ready to skewer anyone who feels differently. …

Politics turns families inside out. It hurts me to know that those I love more than anything disagree on such fundamental issues as marriage equality, health care, immigration, some environmental issues and tax reform. It hurts even more to know that the pervasiveness of politics this time of year is likely to draw us further apart than ever. I am more than the sum of my beliefs. I have to think that they are, too.

… I will share my opinion when asked, but I won’t fight it to the death of our friendships. I value those more than any spot on a ballot.

Cry me a river. I’m sure it really does hurt Ms. Schumer that she and her family disagree about so many issues, and this is a well-written piece describing her (s0-far) “coming out” experience. But to someone who doesn’t have the choice of simply not discussing the difficult things, or agreeing to disagree over differing opinions and political stances, it reads like a boo-hooing of crocodile tears from someone who hasn’t actually had to face much.

Those are harsh words, and they’re not any harsher only because I know that I, too, am a less-than-stellar ally to people who are worse off than I am. But think about it:  Ms. Schumer has the luxury – and yes, it is a luxury – of “agreeing to disagree” about opinions because for her they are merely opinions. They’re not who she is, what she lives every day of her life.

She doesn’t face getting thrown out on the street because she’s QUILTBAG. Roughly 40% of homeless youth are QUILTBAG, and most of them are homeless because they were rejected by their families. Not their opinions, not their political stances, they, themselves, the children, were rejected by their parents, their families. Now they have nowhere to live, nowhere to go.

But putting a bumper sticker on her car is too controversial for her, too likely to create discord and maybe some uncomfortable conversations. Kudos to Ms. Schumer for signing a petition and the other work she’s done, but the way this piece ends is nothing but an insult to the people who can’t simply separate their work and family life, who don’t have the option of deciding for themselves what is and is not more valuable than “a spot on a ballot.”

I’m not saying she needs to come out as a flaming liberal, dye her hair into a rainbow and affix the bumper sticker to her forehead. I’m not even saying she should put the sticker on her car. But she shouldn’t write about her own struggles and then end on a sanctimonious note that manages to combine whiny self-defense with implicit accusations that those of us who do, in fact, face discord within our own families should be blaming ourselves for not valuing what’s most important and silencing ourselves or hiding our identities.

I don’t face this as a QUILTBAG person, but I do face it on the basis of my religion. Star Foster, among many others, has mentioned how her family relationships have been damaged by being Pagan. I myself am thinking deeply about this because depending on what steps happen next in my effort to get recognized as clergy, I may be “outed” to the conservative members of my family. Do I tell them, and get it over with, knowing that they’ll harass me, belittle me, and probably sever all communication with me? Or do I wait and hope that they don’t Google my name and that there are no slow news days this fall where reporters revert to the “Look, a Witch!” form of filler?

So, look, Ms. Schumer, I’ll listen to your “coming out” story, and I’ll sympathize over the problems of family discord and the difficult decisions about how much, when, and where to stand up for one’s values. I won’t criticize you for your decisions in those areas; I’ll even share some of the hard decisions I’ve had to make and talk about when I’ve decided to stay quiet. But don’t give me this crap about how noble your silence is, how it’s in the service of higher values.

This is the kind of conciliatory bullshit from would-be allies that ends up as just more victim-blaming for people in tough situations. You’ve just succeeded in not only staying quiet but providing added momentum to silence those whom you claim to support.

Go ahead, cry me a river about your bumper sticker. But don’t tell me you’re staying silent because it’s the right thing to do.

Two women in North Carolina

In the wake of the passage of Amendment One in North Carolina, I’m going to give homage to two women who were important to me. Their interactions with me continue to give me hope that the people of NC are not entirely as hateful as the legislation they just passed.

One of them was my freshman composition teacher. That’s a position rather like being a nurse’s aide in the hospital – theoretically of massive importance, but practically full of mundane drudgery dealing with other people’s crap. She was considerate and polite, putting up with our nonsense and with several flavors of youthful stupidity. She wore a gold band on her left ring finger, and in a class conversation, I once gestured to it and referred to her “husband.” She was kind enough to tell me after class that I was mistaken. I had to process that for a bit; gay and lesbian people were simply not on my mental radar.

Another time, I was sick after class and had to stay put and rest a bit. She stayed with me and talked with me to help me stay calm, and she told me about getting together with her partner. She ended with saying that they would get married if they could, but they can’t; they wear the rings anyway. I nodded, thinking that was a stupid hiccup in the law that would probably get fixed sometime.

I simply couldn’t see any reason to discriminate; I didn’t exactly become an ally at that point, but I became a lot less of a jerk. Looking back, I realize that I was part of the unending torrent of anti-QUILTBAG yuck that she had to deal with. It wasn’t her job to do QUILTBAG 101 with me for the umpteen thousandth time in her life, but she did, and she did it beautifully. I bless her and honor her for it.

The other woman was my doctor for most of my undergraduate career. She was Roman Catholic, in a committed partnership, and while I knew her, she and her partner adopted a little girl from China. I told her that I thought that was great – not that she needed my approval, duh, but I was fumbling towards being an ally. I didn’t know what it was, but the rainbow triangle on her office door made me more comfortable seeing her.

When I wanted birth control, she was the one I went to. We talked about the options and decided that an IUD might be the best way to go. I had been indoctrinated with the “IUDs cause abortions!” lie, and she took my concerns seriously. She gave me some scientific reading that dealt with the truth of the matter, and discussed it with me, and I agreed. She put in the IUD that kept me safe and healthy for many years. I bless her and honor her for it.

Of course, the final irony of all this is that it was also in college that I realized I am what I call fundamentally bisexual. You might describe it as being a Kinsey 1 or 1.5. I never “came out” as bi because I’ve only had one intimate same-sex relationship, and it was never public. Functionally, I’m an ally, not a QUILTBAG person. But knowing that affects how I think, and how I feel, and how very, very angry and sad I am about the state where I lived for many years and met these wonderful women telling them and everyone like them that they are second-class citizens and will be forever if the assholes have their way.

My heart goes out to all the QUILTBAG people in North Carolina and elsewhere who are hurt by this travesty of a law enshrining theocratic hatred. As Hecate has pointed out, our hope today is that this setback is only a part of the bending of of the moral arc. In honor of these women and all the other people who have bent my personal arc, I recommit to getting out there and giving the universe some of what she calls dulcet, reasoned encouragement to bend, and soon. Now. So mote it be.

Passing children through the fire for Moloch

TW: violent homophobia and homophobic language, violence to children, suicide

“It is well known that the homosexual agenda is just an insidious plot to prevent gay teenagers from dying.” – Stephen Colbert

It is clear that homophobic bullying is directly responsible for gay kids and teens committing suicide. Nonetheless, some despicable people insist that governments and schools cannot take action to stop such bullying. These reprehensible scumbags assert that their freedoms of religion and speech mean that they, and those who agree with them, cannot be prevented from spewing their homophobic vitriol. By making this argument, they are defending a “right” to sacrifice children to their religion.

It’s bad enough when anti-bullying efforts are crippled by carving out “religious” exemptions like the situation in Michigan. By pushing for that waiver to be written into the law, people like the mis-named Michigan American Family Association explicitly assert that it may be difficult to tell the difference between bullying and “sincerely held” religious conviction. By resisting any and all anti-bullying efforts – as these extremely conservative Christians have consistently done – they are arguing that it is impossible to differentiate between “Go kill yourself, faggot,” and “I believe the Bible says gay sex is wrong.”

Moreover, when convictions have to be taken into account to decide whether something is or is not bullying, that’s a claim that intent is magic: the “right” beliefs suddenly transubstantiate merciless verbal and physical abuse into well-meaning religious outreach. What kind of “sincerely held” beliefs make it not just acceptable but necessary, as a religious obligation, for teens to say and do things like this to each other?

This is a matter of religious purity. Homophobes realize that they are quickly losing the battle to claim that QUILTBAG people are somehow objectively wrong, bad, or dangerous. They are retreating to the stronghold of freedom of religion, abusing its defenses to shelter the last holdouts of violent homophobia. In so doing, they are making it clear that their objections to people being gay are religious in nature, just like Muslim strictures against drinking alcohol or Jewish dietary laws prohibiting pork.

Take another example: some extremely conservative interpretations of Islam mandate incredibly restrictive dress codes for women. If they break the modesty standards of their group, women may be punished physically. When the US invaded Afghanistan, situations like this were held up as examples of how awful the Taliban was for enforcing its religious views on everyone and even threatening them with grave physical harm or death for disobeying. The fact that the Taliban had “sincerely held” religious beliefs didn’t seem to give them a free pass to abuse and kill others.

More specifically, extremely conservative Christians who claim religious motivations are also acknowledging that they’re engaging in these behaviors (whether they call it witnessing or bullying) for their own religious benefit. By saying it’s their rights that are being infringed, they discard any figleaf excuse that what they’re doing is for the victim’s good. They are defending cruelty and sadism that leads to kids’ deaths for the sake of their religion.

They are defending religious child sacrifice.

Some Christians have been quick to make this claim about other religions, both historically and in the present day. They have vilified and condemned those accused of it. Now they insist their religious beliefs require other people’s children to suffer and die. They are passing children through the flames – but this time it’s for Jesus.