There was a piece in the New York Times last week (3/3/16) with this headline:
Conservative Lawmakers Push New Legal Protections for Opponents of Gay Rights
The headline echoes the piece’s lead, which begins:
Less than a year after the Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, conservative lawmakers across the country are pushing for a new round of legal protections for opponents of gay rights.
The Times report, by Alan Blinder and Campbell Robertson, concerns proposed state legislation “usually known as First Amendment Defense Acts.” The reporters describe the purpose of these acts: “The new bills generally guarantee protection from any penalties…for those who, on religious grounds, oppose same-sex marriage.”
It’s worth pointing out the obvious here: There are no penalties for opposing same-sex marriage. You are free to speak out against it, write articles criticizing it, organize protests denouncing it and attend religious services condemning it. In short, the full spectrum of First Amendment activities is available to opponents of marriage equality, and requires no special defense.
What you aren’t allowed to do—in some situations—is discriminate against LGBT people, and these bills are an effort to make it OK to do so. Discrimination has not generally been seen as a First Amendment–protected activity; if it had been, the civil rights movement would have been effectively stymied. But the organized homophobia movement is trying to rebrand discrimination as a kind of speech—hence the marketing of these pro-discrimination bills as “First Amendment Defense Acts.”
By framing the story as an attempt by conservatives to get “legal protections for opponents of gay rights,” the Times is in effect siding with those conservatives, assisting them in their efforts to repackage discrimination as speech.
The Times leaves it to critics of the bills to give a straightforward description of what they are intended to accomplish:
Gay rights groups say the new bills simply confirm what the recent religious freedom legislation over the past two years was meant to do all along: discriminate against gay and transgender people.
But the Times never says its in own voice that the actions protected by the bill—such as “refus[ing] to employ openly gay people”—are discrimination. Instead, the paper treats that as a partisan claim made by advocates, as when a gay Virginia state legislator says of one of these bills, “It would just give people the right to discriminate against me.”
The particular pro-discrimination bill being advanced in Virginia is dubbed the Government Nondiscrimination Act. The New York Times should be helping to deconstruct such Orwellian language rather than facilitating it.
You can send a message to the New York Times at [email protected], or write to (outgoing) public editor Margaret Sullivan at [email protected] (Twitter:@NYTimes or @Sulliview). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.