Florida’s New Anti-Gay, Anti-Woman Bill May Be the Most Malicious Yet

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By Mark Joseph Stern

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Bill sponsor Rep. Julio Gonzalez, photographed on April 8, 2015.

There are very few feminist homophobes in the world, which makes sense: Those who seek to deprive gay people of their fundamental rights are rarely eager to enact laws respecting women’s dignity and autonomy. That near-truism is playing out in Florida—where, not content to debase just gays, the legislature is now considering a bill that demeans both gays and women in creative and innovative ways.

Florida’s new “religious freedom” bill, just introduced but already gaining traction, begins with an Indiana-esque guarantee that most businesses and corporations may legally turn away gay couples if doing so “would be contrary to [their] religious or moral convictions.” Similarly, the bill allows private adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples if such placement goes against “the religious or moral convictions or policies of the agency.” In other words, an adoption agency needn’t even articulate a specific religious reason why it would rather keep a child orphaned than place her with a loving gay couple. The agency need only state that its “policies” mandate such homophobia, and it is protected by the bill. (Florida’s legislature considered a similar anti-gay adoption bill in April, but it died after one courageous Republican denounced it from the Senate floor.)

So far, so familiar. But here’s where things get odd—and grim for the women of Florida. The bill states that “a health care facility,” “an ambulatory surgery center,” “a nursing home,” “an assisted living facility,” “a hospice … operated by a religious institution,” and any “health care provider” can refuse to treat a patient or administer a medication if doing so would be contrary to its “religious or moral convictions or policies.” The implications for women here are obvious: Pharmacists could refuse to provide birth control or Plan B; doctors could refuse to place IUDs; nurses could refuse to assist in medically necessary abortions.

For LGBTQ people, this provision of the bill should be equally chilling. Despite the fact that gay and trans people face unique health challenges, LGBTQ-friendly health care is terribly deficient. The Florida bill would compound this problem by permitting doctors to turn away LGBTQ patients if treating them—or treating ailments they perceive to be LGBTQ-specific—would violate their “convictions.” Doctors could refuse to perform surgery on LGBTQ people, unless that refusal “places the patient in imminent danger of loss of life or serious bodily injury.” Cleverly, the bill doesn’t just shield doctors from liability suits from would-be patients: It also shields them from disciplinary actions by their hospital or medical association. So much for the Hippocratic Oath.

The remainder of the bill—the portions allowing elder care facilities and many hospices to turn away gay people—are almost comically evil. In fact, they are so ridiculously malevolent that I must wonder if Rep. Julio Gonzalez, the bill’s sponsor, a physician who was endorsed by Sen. Marco Rubio, doesn’t have an ulterior motive here. A narrower anti-gay discrimination bill (inanely dubbed the Pastor Protection Act) has already sailed through a subcommittee and looks likely to get a floor vote. Perhaps Gonzalez’s bill is designed to make the other, somewhat less odious bill appear moderate by comparison. That is pretty much the only rational reason I can imagine a putative representative of the people would even consider such a plainly malicious, proudly discriminatory, profoundly malefic measure.
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