How Fox News Helped Promote State Anti-Gay Segregation Bills

Fox News has spent the last several months championing anti-gay business owners who refuse to serve gay customers - depicting efforts to prevent discrimination as threats to religious liberty. Now, with several states debating bills that would legalize homophobic discrimination in business and employment, Fox News is now defending the extreme, anti-gay segregation policies it helped to create. 

The push to legalize anti-gay discrimination first came to public attention on February 12, when the Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing individuals and businesses to refuse any services “related to, or related to the celebration of” any union - effectively allowing blanket protection for the denial of services to gay couples. After a storm of negative publicity, the State Senate has shelved the bill.

Similar bills have recently died in Idaho, South Dakota, and Tennessee, but the Arizona legislature has sent its own license to discriminate measure to Republican Gov. Jan Brewer's desk. 

The wave of anti-gay segregation measures is the culmination of a concerted right-wing strategy, bolstered by Fox News, to cast anti-gay discrimination as an integral part of religious freedom.

Gay Rights As “The Death Of Free Enterprise”

Long before the public outcry over Kansas' license to discriminate bill, Fox threw its weight behind businesses whose owners refuse, ostensibly on religious grounds, to serve gay and lesbian couples - precisely the form of discrimination that conservative state legislators have sought to legalize.

As part of Fox's continued conflation of homophobia and Christianity, the network has repeatedly defended discrimination by anti-gay business owners as an essential part of religious liberty.

On December 10, Fox & Friends hosted Colorado baker Jack Phillips and his extremist Alliance Defending Freedom-affiliated attorney to discuss a court ruling that Phillips had violated the state's anti-discrimination law by refusing to serve a same-sex couple. The segment featured a graphic proclaiming “The Death Of Free Enterprise,” while co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck asked Phillips why he thought he shouldn't have to discard his “personal religious beliefs just to make a buck.”

When the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in August 2013 that photographer Elane Huguenin had violated the state's anti-discrimination law by refusing to photograph a lesbian couple's commitment ceremony, Bream turned to the photographers attorneys from the extremist Alliance Defending Freedom, who said that the decision told business owners “you surrender all your constitutional rights” in the marketplace. On The Kelly File, Megyn Kelly wondered “how far could this go,” asserting that requiring a secular company to comply with anti-discrimination laws could pave the path toward requiring “a [same-sex] wedding service performed in a Catholic Church.”

Fox also heralded bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein, an Oregon couple who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple and faced a civil rights complaint based on their failure to adhere to the state's non-discrimination law. In a September segment, then-Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson wondered if the U.S. could remain a “free country” if it prohibited the denial of service to LGBT people based on who they are.

Among the network's most enthusiastic cheerleaders for anti-gay discrimination are Starnes and Erickson. Erickson has written that “gay marriage and religious freedom are incompatible,” arguing that business owners should be allowed to refuse any service related to same-sex unions. Starnes, meanwhile, has denounced laws that protect gay couples from business discrimination for allegedly putting “man's law” above “God's law.”

Crusading Against Anti-Discrimination Protections

Anti-gay business discrimination fits into a Fox worldview that sees any legal protection against anti-LGBT retaliation as a danger to religious liberty.

The network has condemned the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) as an assault on religion, with Bream suggesting that the legislation would be used to punish religious employers - even though ENDA contains an explicit exemption for religious organizations. Introducing a segment on the bill on October 30, host Brett Baier charged that supporters of ENDA “want religious freedom to take a back seat to another kind of freedom” while suggesting that being gay was a “belief” that might conflict with an employer's goals.

During the August 16 edition of Fox & Friends, guest host Shannon Bream peddled baseless attacks on a San Antonio non-discrimination ordinance in one of the network's recurring “The Fight For Faith” segments. Bream assailed the ordinance as “reverse discrimination”  and falsely asserted it could be “the first step to banning Christian conservatives from holding public office.” Other “The Fight For Faith” segments have included attacks on open service by gays and lesbians in the military as a threat to Christians.

Opposing San Antonio's non-discrimination ordinance, Starnes brought his characteristic hyperbole to bear, tweeting that the ordinance would “ban Christians from city jobs [and] contracts” and that Christians in San Antonio were “brac[ing] for persecution.”

Supporting License To Discriminate Bills

Given the network's pattern of support for anti-gay business practices, it's unsurprising that Fox's Erickson and Starnes have been vocal proponents of these anti-gay segregation laws.

Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers came under heavy criticism from her colleagues following the publication of a USA Today column in which she condemned Kansas' "homosexual Jim Crow law."

In a series of tweets blasting Powers' opposition to the Kansas bill, Starnes suggested that the absence of anti-gay segregation laws could lead to churches being forced to perform same-sex weddings:

Starnes also took umbrage at Powers' comparison of anti-gay discrimination measures to Jim Crow laws, saying that license to discriminate bills are simply about “defend[ing] religious liberty.”

Powers' criticism of the measures drew further fire from Erickson, who also took to Twitter to blast her position. In a February 21 exchange with Powers, Erickson asserted that businesses serving gay couples are "aiding and abetting" sin:

The legislative assault on gay and lesbian couples' freedom from discrimination can't be viewed in isolation from the conservative media's phony religious persecution narrative. Fox News has worked tirelessly to tout the victim-status of anti-gay business owners and smear efforts to protect gay people from business and employment discrimination. The idea that being able to refuse service to gay people is an essential part of religious liberty is absurd, but it's become an accepted right-wing walking point thanks to Fox. 

Video by Coleman Lowndes