A Texas judge has raised fury among human and gay rights advocates after siding with a lawsuit on the grounds of "religious freedom."
The lawsuit, filed over the summer under the name Kelley vs Becerra, was focused on whether or not Christian companies should be forced to comply with an Obamacare mandate that requires employers to pay for HIV treatment drugs.
Plaintiffs claim that it violates their religious freedom to do so, since they claim the drugs promote a homosexual and risky lifestyle.
Texas Judge Sides with "Religious Freedom" over HIV Drug Obamacare Mandate
NPR reports, "Plaintiff John Kelley, an orthodontist who lives in Tarrant County, Texas, 'has no desire to purchase health insurance that includes contraceptive coverage because his wife is past her child-bearing years,' according to the complaint. 'He does not want or need health insurance that covers Truvada or PrEP drugs because neither he nor any of his family members is engaged in behavior that transmits HIV,' the complaint continues. 'Mr. Kelley is also a Christian,' and is unwilling to purchase health insurance plans that subsidize certain types of contraception or PrEP drugs 'that encourage homosexual behavior and intravenous drug use.'"
At the heart of the lawsuit is an HIV prevention drug known as PrEP. PrEP is a prophylactic treatment that reduces the risk of transmitting HIV from an infected partner to a non-infected partner by 99%.
And now a US District Judge in Texas by the name of Reed O'Conner has agreed with Kelley.
In O'Conner's ruling, the judge states, "The PrEP mandate violates Braidwood's rights under RFRA."
RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) is a 1993 bill signed into law that provides guidance on where the government's right to interfere in religious freedom ends; the law "Prohibits any agency, department, or official of the United States or any State (the government) from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except that the government may burden a person's exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) furthers a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest."
Judge O'Conner was appointed by former President George W Bush and is often considered the gold standard of conservative arbiters, frequently ruling against liberal lawsuits and in favor of conservative ones. Although he issued a ruling today, O'Conner did not provide a "remedy" in his ruling so the details on how this will all play out remain to be seen.
Is HIV a "Gay Disease"?
Of course, at the heart of Kelley's complaint is that HIV is a disease for gay people, and that by paying for their medical treatment, he's helping them engage in a lifestyle he says goes against his religious liberty.
But Kelley's assertion is inaccurate, which makes O'Conner's ruling suspect.
The Human Rights Campaign explains, "While rates of HIV are disproportionately higher among members of the LGBTQ community, HIV is by no means confined to LGBTQ people. Anyone—regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or other factors—can acquire HIV. Calling HIV a 'gay' or 'LGBTQ' disease is medically untrue and only serves to perpetuate harmful stereotypes about people living with HIV and members of the LGBT community."
Historically, both straight and gay people have avoided seeking treatment for HIV because they fear the public repercussions of admitting to having contracted to the disease. And while HIV is not a death sentence disease alone, complications can add up quickly to dangerous levels if it remains untreated.
In addition to being a disease that all sexualities are susceptible to, it touches all age groups, races and relationship statuses - including the apparently monogamous. By treating it as a disease only contracted by "gay men who sleep around" and "drug users", treatment is often withheld, avoided or delayed, leading to unfortunate consequences down the line.
While O'Conner's ruling makes no mention of confirming that homosexual people are most at risk of HIV, it reinforces the unfortunate stereotype that treating it goes against Christian beliefs and that by helping employees pay for access to treatment, people are being forced to go against their religious beliefs.
It's a dangerous precedent that advocates will seek to appeal.