The Supreme Court decision allowing a corporation to exempt itself from the law—in this case the Affordable Care Act—does two very bad things at once:
* It privileges religious beliefs over other deeply-held beliefs
* It puts government in the business of deciding what are legitimate religions and religious beliefs.
We can also bemoan the content of this case—contraceptive access, healthcare affordability—but the religious issues actually create larger, longer-range problems for America.
The First Amendment, of course, guarantees that "Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise" of religion. But even before that, it says that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". That is, the American government is not allowed to say "you can be a Christian but not a Muslim." Or "you can show devotion to Allah but not to Jehovah."
This new "right" was a radical innovation back in the eighteenth century, when governments routinely insisted that people believe and practice the same religion as the King—and executed or exiled people who disobeyed.
But the Hobby Lobby decision now puts government in the position of deciding what's a "true" religion, and what are "reasonable" religious beliefs. If Hobby Lobby, for example, refused to hire African-American people because the Bible says they are Satan's people, or are destined to be slaves (both can be inferred from the text), the Court would not have allowed this. That is, the government's laws would be applied based on the CONTENT of the religious belief.
Similarly, consider the United Church of Bacon, a duly registered religious corporation in the state of Nevada, with a charter, officiants, members, etc.. If this Church petitioned the government to be exempt from slaughterhouse or meat inspection regulations, would the Court support their right to religious freedom? I suspect not. That is, the government would be deciding which religions are "legitimate" and which are not. And what about those who hear Napolean's holy voice? What differentiates a "religion" from deeply beliefs, anyway?
This profound question should be decided in people's hearts, not in government hallways.
While we're on the subject of religious freedom, look again at the First Amendment. It grants these rights to PEOPLE. Corporations don't and can't have beliefs—they are a legal abstraction that exist only on paper. Referring to Hobby Lobby's "beliefs" makes as much sense as referring to a table's "beliefs. And the owners of Hobby Lobby? They received enormous tax and legal advantages when they created a corporation. Legally, they distanced themselves from the company—if they are personally sued (say for libel or personal negligence), the multi-million dollar corporation is protected. If the Corporation is sued, they have great personal protection.
That legal distance they created must work both ways. The benefits they gain already require relinquishing some personal rights—for example, the government is allowed a whole new level of financial scrutiny. Similarly, the corporation doesn't inherit its owners' right to religious belief. The owners can express their religious beliefs any (legal) way they like. But the corporation, as a fictitious entity enjoying many privileges, doesn't have the rights of "belief" that its owners do.
So Hobby Lobby should obey all laws, including laws that offend its owners. Exempting the corporation from obeying certain laws because its owners wish to exercise their personal rights will most certainly invite more corporations to break more laws under the guise of religious liberty.
And so this Court decision gives even more power to people with deeply-held irrational beliefs—SOME people, with SOME beliefs.
And yet they have the nerve to say that religion is under attack in America. Talk about an irrational belief.
Today is Gay Pride Day. Across the U.S. and many other countries, colorful parades mark the 45th anniversary of the riots around New York's Stonewall Inn, credited with launching the gay rights movement.
The riots were a series of violent reactions to yet another then-completely-legal police raid on gay bars. Today it's almost impossible to imagine that only four decades ago, being gay was grounds for harassment, arrest, and jail time. And, of course, losing one's job, one's apartment, and custody of one's children.
A lot has changed since then.
And a lot hasn't.
A huge number of Americans still think that gay people choose to be gay—that it's the expression of a defiant personality, or a hostile statement to Dad, or a pathetic decision to look for fun in perverse places.
That idea, frankly, makes absolutely no sense. As long-time gay equality activist Brian McNaught said over thirty years ago, "When did I DECIDE to be gay? When I decided it would be fun to have my car trashed, my religion throw me out, my apartment taken away, and some of my loved ones turn their backs on me."
And yet the issue of sexual orientation "choice" is now a crucial public policy issue. Anti-discrimination policies are aimed at protecting classes of people with features that are inborn (like race or gender) or biologically thrust upon (like age or dis/ability). If sexual orientation is a choice, like poor hygiene or wearing shorts in wintertime, it's easy to argue that gay people just have to deal with the results of their choices—such as not getting jobs or rentals from people they discomfit.
If sexual orientation is as inborn as eye color, however, gay people have the legal expectation of being treated exactly like non-gay people in public life.
An issue that gay people face even more now than they did in 1969 is the idea that they are responsible for social problems in America. Today, very powerful voices blame "homosexuality" for the decline in childrens' school performance, for the increase in out-of-wedlock births, for the tenacity of the abortion rights movement, and for the alleged increase in both child molestation and divorce (neither of which has actually increased in over a decade).
This would, if true, represent a tremendous influence by a group of less than nine million adults—who have no army, no church, no senators, no political party, and no TV stations.
But the fundamental, excruciating issue that non-heterosexuals face is the idea that they are different from heterosexuals in some meaningful way: that their relationships are different, their parenting is different, their fear of death is different, their love of ice cream is different, their disdain for slow drivers in the left lane is different, their boredom with flossing is different, or their creativity on their income taxes is different.
If anything makes gay people different than heterosexuals, it's dealing with that common belief day after day, year after year. It has to be a corrosive, embittering experience, an experience that makes it hard to feel normal.
Your average Gay Pride parade features lots of half-clothed people, men wearing dresses, leather lesbians on motorcycles, and rainbow-faced people smooching far too enthusiastically. And yet ironically, the Gay Pride movement isn't about showing how different gay people are. It's about reminding gay people that they're normal. That Broadway or Main Street are just as much theirs as anyone else's.
Every gay adult in America grew up with a profoundly shameful, confusing secret. They desired, but could not share their yearning; they loved, but could expect no support; they lost, but could expect no sympathy. Many gay adults have spent 10, 20, 30 years closeted from employers, friends, and family, attempting to craft meaningful relationships out of sight from almost everyone who mattered.
Think for a second what that must be like. And what it must be like for a few million gay teens, young adults, and middle-aged men and women living lives of secrecy.
Gay Pride? The Straight world's shame.
Cheating, infidelity, adultery—no matter what you call it, it's a staple of popular culture. Articles with titles like "Why he cheats," "Affair-proofing your marriage," "Too sexy to cheat on," and "Secrets of wives with faithful husbands" litter the self-help and "lifestyle" landscape.
These articles—which mostly advise readers to be as sexy as possible, and just a tiny bit mistrustful—generally treat infidelity as if it's primarily about sex. But while some affairs are just that, a large percentage of affairs are not about sex. In fact, many unfaithful men and women admit that the sex at home is good, or the sex in the affair is mediocre.
So if not for the sex, why do people have affairs?
* Touching and physical affection
We can live without sex far easier than we can live without touching. An hour's visit with a lover might include just 10 minutes of sex and 50 minutes of cuddling. Or no sex at all. Some people would risk everything they value just to have someone stroke their face without being asked.
* Someone to talk with
It's sad, but many couples don't talk much; if they do, it's often about the kids or, um, the kids. Ask any prostitute: many clients want the opportunity to talk after sex more than they want the sex (and some prostitutes will tell you that talking and listening are a lot more work).
* Feeling manly or womanly
Sex is about more than pleasure. At its best, people have experiences of validation—being a "real man" or "real woman," whatever that means to them.
When people feel trapped in routine, when they can't create joy or delight, when the future looks exactly like the unsatisfactory present, an affair can be an escape, an oasis in the desert of life. It doesn't fix anything of course—your job is still dehumanizing, your kid still has learning disabilities, your belly hasn't gone away—but for an hour every month or two, it all disappears.
All those things marriage counselors advise long-term couples to do to keep sex fresh? People do that when they're having an affair. They make a date to get together, they look forward to it, they talk about how great it will be, they think about what they'll wear, they eat moderately that day, and most importantly, they plan on to enjoy it.
If married couples did that regularly, sex therapists would lose half our business.
* Feel desirable, attractive, or desired
It's entirely possible to feel loved and to not feel attractive or desired—it happens in many, many otherwise intimate relationships. And although most grownups very much appreciate intimacy, respect, and love, many people yearn to feel desired. For some of them, an affair is where they have this experience.
Sex in the affair may not be great or even frequent, but the experience of a lover lighting up when he or she watches you undress is, for some people, priceless. It's no substitute for love or dependability, but some people will do almost anything to feel desired.
* A sense of danger?
Pop psychology says that people having affairs love the sense of danger and the possibility of getting caught. I've had a small handful of people like that. What's more common is people who are unconsciously inviting discovery, which will blow up a relationship they want to leave but somehow can't.
Most common of all? People who dread getting caught, feel terribly guilty, and even have trouble enjoying their affair because they're always wondering if they've covered their tracks successfully. Very few adults say that risking their marriage, home, and relationship with their kids is exciting. But many do it—and not necessarily for sex.