Capitol Beat Opinion

The Legal Fightback Against The Inevitable Backlash

Linda Pentz
Written by Linda Pentz

In the first four months of 2016 there have been 200 anti-LGBT bills introduced in 34 states, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

It’s the not altogether unanticipated backlash to the landmark Supreme Court marriage equality decision last June.

There were about 115 such bills in all of 2015, so bigotry is fast out of the gate this year.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that only eight of those current bills have passed through their legislative bodies, and only five are already law — in Missouri, Kansas, Tennessee and North Carolina.  But it’s five too many.  And there are still 53 bills up for consideration in 14 states.

Consequently, campaigners for LGBT rights are by no means kicking their heels.  With the North Carolina legislature back in session, activists are launching a full court press to get that state’s law rolled back in its entirety.

The North Carolina NAACP held a rally at the state capitol on April 25 and a group stopped at the governor’s office.  And at the restroom.  To illustrate not only the idiocy — but the unenforceability — of the law, trans activist Mara Keisling, who heads the National Center for Transgender Equality, used the ladies’ room without incident or arrest.

But LGBT advocates face some powerful opposition.  The HRC identified three groups as the movement’s primary — and extremely well-funded — adversaries.  They are the Liberty Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council.

“The Liberty Counsel is claiming credit for bills in 20 states,” pointed out Sarah Warbelow, Legal Director at HRC on a recent phone interview with members.

So who is funding the legislative backlash?  The Liberty Counsel’s big backer is the Thirteen Foundation.  It belongs to the Wilks brothers who are the Religious Right’s version of the Koch brothers.  Why are we not surprised to learn their riches come from fracking?

(In all fairness, not all of HRC’s corporate backers are to its members’ liking.  They include Northrup Grumman, manufacturer of nuclear weapons, which is about as far from human rights as you can get.  Another is Boeing, which HRC members have decried for its production of drones.)

Alliance Defending Freedom gets six figure donations from the National Christian Charitable Foundation, God’s Gift (although not directly from Him), and Chattanooga Christian Community Foundation.

For activists eager to join the fight to kill the remaining anti-LGBT bills in play, and repeal those that have passed, the HRC suggests members refer to theNational Equality Action Team as a resource.  But turning the tide will take more than repealing bad laws.

“We’ve got to come out, over and over and over again,” said Lynne Bowman, Senior Regional Field Director at HRC.  “It’s about telling our stories to folks,” she said.  “It’s about sharing ‘this is what my life is like.’  So the closer a person gets to us, the more they understand our story, the less they have this irrational fear, and the more they are then able to influence people in their sphere.”