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Free to Be You and Me: The Problem With Legalized Discrimination

I will never forget the moment my wife Aisha proposed to me. We had been dating for years and had just completed our first (and last) marathon together. The thinking behind us training for, and subsequently running a 26.2-mile race was, “If we can conquer this, then we can conquer anything.” This statement turned out to be true because just a few short weeks after our torturous Upstate New York (read: a million hills) race, she popped the question on at rooftop restaurant in Washington, D.C.—the site of our very first date.

When Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA was first announced, I went back to this day—a day that was filled with such happiness and love. I thought how radically different it could have been if the restaurant we were dining in—holding hands and staring lovingly at one another—had asked us to leave. Under an Indiana-style law the owners would have been well within their rights to mar our celebratory occasion with state-sanctioned hate. Even though we were paying customers, they could have taken one look at our hand holding and kicked us out the door.

Religion should never be used as a reason to discriminate. This rationale does a grave disservice to those who believe in a higher power and organized religion. Since the beginning of time there have been individuals and entire institutions that choose to use religion as a way to subjugate what they deem to be “otherness” rather than employ it as a tool of compassion and togetherness.

The RFRA in its original iteration could have been used by anti-gay business owners to discriminate against LGBT people, without fear of retribution under local ordinances. This law—which unfortunately doesn’t stand alone since states like Georgia, Texas and North Carolina hope to follow suit— is a testament of the desire to discriminate by any means – only to reverse those thoughts once the glare from the national spotlight becomes too hot.

It would seem that homophobes, transphobes and the like continue to be viewed as a “protected class,” while members of the LGBT community remain subject to the political whims at play at any given moment.

Regardless of how the tides have changed over the nearly five years since my wedding day to my beautiful wife, marriage equality alone will not be the silver bullet ending discrimination. To the contrary, if cracks to Roe v. Wade and the hatchet that was taken to the Voting Rights Act have taught us anything—justice is not cemented in stone.

When my wife popped the question in 2009, only a handful of states had same-sex marriage laws on the books. In just five short years (but following decades of work) marriage is now legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia. Later this month, on April 28, the Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments on whether states can ban same-sex marriage. Many believe that this case will make marriage legal in all 50 states, which will be fantastic news for those of us who are married or desire to be—but that still doesn’t negate laws like Indiana’s from trying to chip away at our citizenry and ultimately our humanity.

According to the Supreme Court and "religious freedom" laws, corporations have rights—they can exercise their religious right to treat my wife and me as second-class citizens. What about our rights? What about our freedom to just be?

This recent exhibition of hate masquerading as “religious liberty” isn’t just about LGBT people, it’s about anyone who seeks to live freely without being crushed by other people’s thinking of who one should be and how one should live. Today it’s LGBT people, tomorrow it’s birth control, later it’s immigration and the list goes on for “otherness.”

No one has the authority to steal our happiness because unlike Indiana’s now-defunct attempt at religious overreach, the pursuit of our happiness is codified in the highest law of the land, our Constitution.