The minute I read the headline of Molly Ball’s much-quoted piece for The Atlantic–“How Hobby Lobby Split the Left and Set Back Gay Rights”–I figured Religion Dispatch‘s Sarah Posner would respond definitively. And boy howdy, she has:
This weekend, the day before President Obama signed an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the Atlantic’s Molly Ball published a piece asserting that a “controversy” was emerging in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case that “has split gay-rights and faith groups on the left, with wide-ranging political fallout that some now fear could hurt both causes.”
That statement has slim, if any evidence to support it. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence against it.
“There is no division on the left,” Sharon Groves, Director of the Religion and Faith Program at the Human Rights Campaign, told me, referring to the overwhelming progressive religious opposition to the inclusion of a religious exemption in today’s order. Obama signed the order without a religious exemption.
If anything, Hobby Lobby has reduced divisions among progressives about “religious liberty” exemptions from non-discrimination laws by making it clear SCOTUS will use any exemption for institutions that aren’t actually churches to build much bigger exemptions. And that’s true not just of LGBT folk, but of the “religious left” as well.
As I reported two weeks ago, 100 religious leaders signed a letter to Obama unequivocally opposing a religious exemption in the order. Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, a pro-LGBT rights Catholic group, told me that letter garnered “quick, rapid support” within a day or two of being drafted. “Everyone was on exactly the same page,” she said.
That letter was followed by a letter from civil liberties and diverse pro-LGBT religious groups, initially collecting 69 signatures, and later 98.
“I don’t know any people on the left who were for the [executive order] religious exemption,” said Duddy-Burke, adding that advocacy groups may differ on questions of strategy—such as whether to drop support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act if the bill includes a religious exemption. That assessment was echoed by other leaders I spoke with, who all emphasized those differences were ones of strategy in the post-Hobby Lobby legal landscape, not over whether there should be religious exemptions to laws guaranteeing LGBT rights.
Turns out, as those who have followed this issue for some time might expect, by “the left” Ball pretty much just means Jim Wallis, the self-proclaimed leader of the “religious left” whose impulses on LGBT issues are lamentably reactionary. And Ball also cites hand-wringing from a staffer for Third Way who purports to be a honest broker between “the left” and religious folk. That’s pretty much all for evidence of a “split.”
The real news here is actually that the Obama administration for once did not listen to non-“Left” religious voices on this subject, in part because there was no “split on the Left” at all. But Ball’s piece shows the confusion that continues to reign, especially among people who don’t seem to understand religion or “the Left.”