Law, Rights, and Religion Project

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Since the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which held that laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples were unconstitutional, opponents of marriage equality and LGBT rights have largely turned their attention to the enactment of religious exemption laws. These exemptions allow individuals and organizations to violate certain federal, state, and local laws and regulations that conflict with their religious faith. While some proposed bills are state-level variations on the extremely broad and general federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed in 1993, a new variety of legislation provides narrower accommodations specifically relating to religious views about sex, gender, and marriage. These bills, introduced at both the state and federal levels, would allow private and state actors to act in ways that would otherwise violate the law, so long as their actions are justified by a religious or moral belief about sex or marriage. The bills protect a huge range of behavior — from clergy members who refuse to officiate same-sex weddings (something already protected by the First Amendment), to private businesses that deny essential services to anyone that does not meet a particular standard of sexual and reproductive morality. This memo provides an overview of the types of bills that were introduced over the 2015-2016 Legislative Session.