Guest Editorial: Equal Protection Requires Equal Treatment, Times Record

At a forum sponsored by the Political Animals Club in Little Rock last week, Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, and Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, discussed the possibility of amending the Arkansas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Tucker said Friday he may propose changes to the law that would provide protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The current law, approved during this year’s regular legislative session, prohibits any action by the state that substantially burdens a person’s exercise of religion unless the state has a compelling reason for doing so and it does so by the least restrictive means available.

Tucker told reporters he would be willing to include language stating that ministers and religious institutions would not have to marry same-sex couples.

“Maybe if we could put it into the statute to make it absolutely explicit that if you’re engaged in a religious ceremony then you have that protection, but at the same time if you’re engaged in some civil practice like renting an apartment or selling a sandwich, then you can’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, then maybe that would have a better shot of getting through,” he said.

Of course, Ballinger would have none of it. Ballinger said during the program that he opposes gay marriage and that during the session he opposed the idea of adding non-discrimination language to his bill.

“The community who’s mad that that wasn’t on that bill, they should be mad at their legislators” for not running separate legislation on gay rights, he said.

The smug indifference of Ballinger’s position is pretty predictable; but then again, that’s how this legislature has decided to comport itself. When folks like Ballinger get on their religious high horse, the due process right and civil liberties of all who disagree go straight out the window.

It’s rather sad that Ballinger and his ilk live in such a small and intolerant world. They fail to recognize that equal protection is the cornerstone of our democracy. It doesn’t just apply to those people with whom we happen to agree. It doesn’t just apply to those people who we are “sure” live as God had commanded.

It applies to everyone, regardless of their faith, their faults or the makeup of their families. Neither Tucker, nor any other reasonable person, wants to force people to do something they believe is counter to their faith, but the decision to operate a publicly licensed business or to run for public office brings with it certain encumbrances — encumbrances the business owners and politicians have freely chosen to accept as a condition of their practices.

If we accept that some groups can apply a faith litmus test before deciding which services to render, then we have to accept that all religious groups (no matter how bizarre, unconventional or alien their beliefs may seem) have that same right. We also have to accept that secular groups have the same standing. Under this free-for-all, we’ll have to accept that atheists can rightfully deny service to Christians. One racial or ethnic group can deny service to another. Men can deny women. And so on.

The only safe haven from that is due process and protection of everyone’s civil liberties. Ballinger may not like it, but then again, he’s used to the guarantees he’d deny others.

Full article: http://swtimes.com/opinion/guest-editorial-equal-protection-requires-equal-treatment