Now that religious conservatives realize they’re losing the “gay-marriage wars,” said Gabriel Arana in Prospect.org, they have hit on a desperate new tactic: legalize discrimination against gays “under the banner of ‘religious liberty.’” In Republican-controlled states across the nation—so far, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Tennessee—legislators have submitted or passed bills that would authorize businesses and individuals to refuse service to gays, lesbians, and same-sex couples if, in the words of the Arizona law, serving them would violate business owners’ “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Gov. Jan Brewer was expected to veto the Arizona bill this week, after a national backlash threatened the state’s tourism and convention business. But this fight is just beginning. Sponsors of these laws say they would exempt a Christian florist, baker, or photographer from providing services to a same-sex wedding, said Kirsten Powers in USA Today. Most are written so vaguely, however, as to allow any business or individual to legally discriminate against any gay person for any reason. These are, in effect, “homosexual Jim Crow laws.”

Freedom should be a two-way street, said Ryan Anderson in NationalReview.com. Americans are “free to live and love how they choose,” but they are also free to worship God however they choose, and to “act in the public square” based on those beliefs. Christian caterers, florists, and bakers have been sued for refusing to serve same-sex weddings, and Christian adoption agencies have been forced out of business for refusing to place children with same-sex couples. Those are flagrant violations of “religious liberty.” Try the “moral math” in reverse, said Kevin Williamson, also in NationalReview.com. Should a black baker be forced to bake a cake for a Ku Klux Klan wedding? Should a gay restaurant owner be guilty of a crime if he politely declines to rent out his dining room to the Westboro Baptist Church “for their annual ‘God Hates Fags’ Sunday brunch?” Of course not. Freedom of conscience deserves as much legal protection as any other core American freedom.

This argument is an obvious fig leaf for homophobic bigotry, said Andrew Sullivan in Dish.AndrewSullivan.com. The Bible expressly forbids the remarriage of divorced people, yet Christian florists, bakers, and photographers have been working such “adulterous” weddings for decades without complaint. People are entitled to their beliefs, said Noah Feldman in Bloomberg.com, but not when they violate other people’s rights. Let’s not forget that Southern segregationists also argued that it would violate their personal consciences and freedom of association if they were forced to serve blacks in their businesses or sit alongside them in schools and restaurants. If we reopen the door to legal discrimination to satisfy conservative Christians, bigots could claim the right to refuse to employ Muslims, sexually active single women, or Mormons.

The real issue here isn’t gay marriage, said Brian Beutler in Salon.com.As American society grows more liberal and more diverse, conservative extremists are seeking legal protection to live in “isolated subcultures” with their own rules. Hence the red states’ refusal to comply with the Affordable Care Act, the legal war against the ACA’s contraception mandate, and the slew of voter ID and “stand your ground” laws. As they watch their “once dominant cosmology recede,” social conservatives are seeking a waiver not just from gay marriage, but from the 21st century.