Monday, February 24, 2014

What's most unbelievable about Arizona’s anti-LGBT law

When a similar law came to light and failed in Kansas, I thought it would just be a one-time fluke.  A conservative, fly-over state with no real influence making a play to get on the national state by trying to pass a law that would allow businesses to discriminate based on a person’s sexual orientation.  When the bill predictably (or so I thought) failed in the state senate, I was convinced that Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s public support for the bill was nothing more than political pandering to the base.  He knew the bill would fail so why not take a strong stand for it and achieve a moral victory as a martyr for the cause. Then Arizona happened.
'Rally for LGBT equality' photo (c) 2010, Fibonacci Blue - license:’s be completely honest for a moment.  While the bill is titled as relating to the free exercise of religion, it’s plainly obvious to anyone with any common sense that it’s simply about legalizing discrimination and bigotry.  The idea that anyone who owns or operates a public business can legally refuse to serve potential customers based on that person’s sexual orientation is simply mind-boggling.  Are we in some time vortex which has sucked us back to Jim Crowe era America?   Supporters of the bill, aka conservative Christians, like to say this is about “religious freedom.”  Since when does exercising one’s freedom allow you the right to impose on someone else’s?
The whole “religious freedom” mantra is being repeated with the same frequency and intensity as the one-percenters kept proclaiming themselves “job creators.”  Both claims are worthless and hollow—yet to those who think giving rich people more money when our economy is based on consumer spending, “religious freedom” as the right to legalized bigotry makes perfect sense.  Religious freedom in America has been about the right to individual “soul liberty”—not the right to bash someone else over the head with that personal belief.   I can believe whatever I want—but that doesn’t mean I can necessarily live out those beliefs in the public sphere.  America is—for better or worse—a democratic society where majority rule shapes the public values and guidelines.  And again, while the public can’t force you to believe a certain thing, it can mandate that you behave a certain way.
The idea of “religious freedom” now meaning the ability to behave in accordance with your own personal thoughts or belief system is entirely problematic.  Suppose I am a business owner who believes pre-marital sex is wrong; do I know have the right to refuse contraceptives and maternity coverage to all my single female employees? If I think all Muslims are going to hell can I ban them from my restaurant?  If it is my sincerely held belief that white people are the master race—can I begin seeking to eliminate all other races?  “Religious Freedom” in America has traditionally referred to individual “soul liberty,” or the idea for each person to think or believe however they see fit.  With this new law—and the changing definition of the word—conservatives are essentially re-defining “religious freedom” as the ability to behave however I see fit, regardless of standard public practice or law.
'Lone Anti Gay Protester' photo (c) 2010, William Murphy - license:
More brilliant conservative logic!

And, what’s most shockingly, mind-numbingly, ridiculous about the bills in Arizona and Kansas is that they are nearly universally and exclusively supported by conservative Christians.  Yes, those same conservative Christians that are constantly wailing about they themselves being “persecuted.” Yes, those same conservative Christians that every Christmas season play-up the made-up “War on Christmas.”   That these same conservative Christians, who despite their obvious hegemonic influence over American culture, have this delusional, fantastical notion that they themselves are being discriminated against can then turn around and support legalized discrimination of an actual minority group which is actually facing legitimate bullying, persecution, and discrimination is nothing short of ridiculous.  Frankly, it’s beyond ridiculous. It’s moronic, stupendous, and completely hypocritical.  Can any of us really not imagine the hullabaloo that would come about if some state tried to pass a law which  allowed business owners the right to refuse service to Christians!?
A foundational principle of America is the right for individuals to believe what they want to believe.  While this has been ignored at different stages throughout our history such as in Puritanical New England or the McCarthy blacklists of the 1950’s, religious freedom—when properly practiced—is an exceptional part of what makes America great.   Just as I do not wish to be told what to believe, I have no desire to tell others, yet there is a huge difference between belief and behavior.  Believe what you want, but you must behave within the confines of the law. And whatever you believe, don’t use that belief as an excuse to hate. 

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