Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Texas abdicates duty to protect LGBT people

Megan McFarren

The Texas Legislature recently introduced several bills that allow for blatant discrimination against LGBT people under the guise of religious freedom. But representatives such as Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, author of the state’s “First Amendment Defense Act”, would be better off protecting the constitution by fulfilling their duties under the First and 14th Amendments. 

The Establishment clause of the First Amendment provides for separation of church and state, and the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment prohibits discrimination based on membership in a certain group. Texas currently fails to meet both these standards for our LGBT population. 

Denying a person access to a business that serves the general public based on a personal belief or lifestyle is discrimination. Religious liberty does not extend to the right to discriminate because it crosses the line between making a choice for oneself and forcing a choice on someone else. 

Most arguments for opt-out legislation center on the First Amendment’s protection to freely practice religion. However, precedent seems to be against the idea that free exercise allows for discrimination. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith that religious beliefs do not excuse one from compliance with the law. On the contrary, because gay marriage has been found to be a constitutional right, religious exemptions must not be allowed to hinder it. 

Texas has no protections against discrimination for either sexual orientation or gender identity in the public accommodation, employment, credit or housing realms. Apart from violating the 14th Amendment’s call to provide equal protection under the law, this discrimination is potentially bad for business. As a pro-business state, we shouldn’t be implementing policy that will curtail growth, preventing business owners from operating here. 

By failing this community in the legal sphere, we put LGBT people in real danger in the physical sphere. Although Texas passed an anti-hate crime law in 2001, it does not include protection for crimes motivated by gender identity.

In Texas, hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity have increased since 2007. The Texas Department of Public Safety did not record hate crimes based on gender identity in 2007, but in 2015 they were listed as motivation for 2.6 percent of hate crimes. In 2015, hate crimes based on gender identity and sexual orientation made up almost a quarter of hate crimes statewide, which is higher than the national average

Because of this visceral threat, equal protection for the LGBT community under the law has become equivalent to necessary safety regulation. Child protection or seat belt laws can legally be enforced even if they violate one’s personal beliefs, because they are reasonable and rationally expected to protect the population. The same is true for anti-discrimination laws and policies. 

Although there are limits to the immediate effect of anti-discrimination laws, they are still vital to enact. How can we expect to protect those who live in our state, economically and physically, when we do not have laws in place to allow the courts to enforce protection?

We are currently accessories to the trampling of a minority group under the foot of a religious majority— which is exactly what the First and 14th Amendments were designed to protect against.

MacLean is a advertising and geography sophomore from Austin. She is a senior columnist. Follow her on Twitter @maclean_josie.

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Texas abdicates duty to protect LGBT people