In an analysis of buzzwords used during GOP debates, the website FiveThirtyEight explores the emerging use of the phrases involving religion as dog-whistle terms to attack same-sex marriage.
The shift from talking directly about same-sex marriage to more glancing references is also reflected in the GOP debate rhetoric. Mentions of “religious,” “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” appeared more than ever in this year’s debates when referring to the rights of business owners to refuse services to gay customers. It’s code, [Paris] Dennard says, for “gay marriage.”
“What you can fight about is the ramifications of it,” he said, “that it affects small business, that it affects Christianity. What is the root issue? Christianity is under attack. You can say that ‘values are under attack’ without coming out against gay marriage.”
You can see proof of this phenomenon on our Legislation Tracker, where many of the bills featured use language like "religious liberty" and "religious freedom" even though the ultimate goal is to discriminate against same-sex individuals and couples.