The sudden eruption of anti-gay legislation nationwide is not a coincidence

Readers of this blog know well that 2013, and the first month or so of 2014, have been quite good for gay rights, especially marriage equality rights.

As the saying goes, for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. I think none but the most self-deluded believed that homophobic bigotry was dead, or that the bad guys would simply sit back and let gay people have lives of happiness and equality.

As John noted in his article about Arizona this morning, in the past few weeks there’s been an eruption of anti-gay measures in state legislatures across the country. And it’s not a coincidence.

Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah have seen efforts — always introduced by Republicans, mind you — to pass laws they claim are to “protect” the free exercise of religion. (I was going to say “radical conservative fundamentalist Republicans” — but I’d be repeating myself.)

From Mother Jones:

Republicans lawmakers and a network of conservative religious groups has been pushing similar bills in other states, essentially forging a national campaign that, critics say, would legalize discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Republicans in Idaho, OregonSouth Dakota, and Tennessee recently introduced provisions that mimic the Kansas legislation. And Arizona, Hawaii, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Mississippi have introduced broader “religious freedom” bills with a unique provision that would also allow people to deny services or employment to LGBT Americans, legal experts say.

Some of them, such as the proposals in Nevada and Ohio last year and the new one in South Dakota, came right out and specified that the reason was so conservative fundamentalists could discriminate against gays and lesbians. All three of these measures, by the way, appear to be dead.

The bills that have been under consideration now… oh boy. And there are a lot of them:

  • January 16: Kansas, introduced by Republican state Representative Charles Macheers
  • January 28: Idaho, by Rep. Lynn Luker (Republican, obviously)
  • January 30: South Dakota, from a ‘coalition’ of Republican senators and representatives
  • February 5: Tennessee, Rep. Bill Dunn (R) and Sen. Brian Kelsey (R), as well as other GOP co-sponsors

They just don’t stop at anti-gay bigotry

God Hates Fags home page home page of Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church.

I’ll be honest here and admit I don’t know what the hell these homophobic Republicans are thinking now though, because these newer measures, all of which have similar language and rationales, state they want to make it legal for people to discriminate on the basis of religion.

Not ‘discriminate against gay people’ but simply ‘discriminate.’

And by the way, there’s a reason why the bills are all similar, often with the same language and all promoted with the same homophobic concern-trolling talking points. “Oh how horrible it is for that poor baker to be FORCED to use her artistic skills to make a cake and write, in buttercream frosting, ‘Best Wishes to Cindy and Eve on the joyous day of their Wedding’! Oh the humanity!”

The Arizona state Senate just passed a bill with the following provisions:

1. Expands the definition of exercise of religion to specifically include both the practice and observance of religion.

2.  Expands the definition of person to include any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity.

3.  Changes the terminology within the prohibition of burdening a person’s exercise of religion to apply to state action instead of government.

4.  Defines state action as any action by the government or the implementation or application of any law, including state and local laws, ordinances, rules, regulations and policies, whether statutory or otherwise, and whether the implementation or action is made or attempted to be made by the government or nongovernmental persons.

5.  Specifies that a free exercise of religion claim or defense may be asserted in a judicial proceeding regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceeding.

Translation: Anybody who wishes to discriminate against someone for any reason need only state it’s because it’s in their religious beliefs. According to an earlier passage, it doesn’t even matter if that belief is “compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.”

For example, let’s say you’re a Catholic, and identify as such. Catholicism has nothing in its tenets about racial discrimination. Doesn’t matter — you can still discriminate against African Americans or Hispanics if you feel like it, and say it’s because God’s Holy Trousers told you to.

Shorter translation: The Arizona bill attempts to nullify all civil rights legislation ever passed, including federal laws, regardless who is being protected.

Here’s a few scenarios for you:

  • Don’t feel like paying women a wage equal to men? Or hiring women at all because in your religious opinion, all women should be housewives? No problem.
  • Hate people of color? You don’t have to hire them or rent to them or anything. If you own a store, you can dust off that old “No Coloreds” sign and put it back in the window. Go ahead and add “No Gays” if you like. And according to the law, you can also re-add “No Chinese, Jews or Irish either” like they used to have in the olden days. Just have an asterisk — “* = The Lord My God Commands It“.
  • Let’s say you’re an EMT. And you come across a gay person bleeding out after a traffic accident. You don’t have to treat them if you think they should die. Same thing if you object to people being Jewish or Romani or ginger.
  • Or let’s say you’re a cop answering a domestic abuse call. You see a husband beating his wife. You’re free to say, “Fine — it’s there in the Bible, men are allowed to beat their wives. Sweetheart, you need to submit to him. Call me if he uses a stick larger in diameter than his thumb.”
  • Or a state-employed poll worker who believes that only white men should be allowed to vote, for people of color bear the Mark of Cain…

There literally is no limit. I saw one wag quip in a comment section, “Yay! Human sacrifice and slavery are back, baby!”

godhatesfags6 phelps westboro

From Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps klan (with permission)

The South Dakota bill had an extra-special F.U. to gay people built into it. If you were discriminated against for being gay and filed a lawsuit to challenge that discrimination, not only would your case be thrown out, you yourself would be fined not less than $2,000 in punitive damages for bothering the courts with your, um, ‘gayness.’ (Status: The bill was just killed by the state Senate judiciary committee.)

The Idaho legislation would have prohibited the state from denying professional licensing to anybody who wanted to discriminate. Doctors, hairdressers, employment agencies, funeral directors, home inspectors, notaries public, real estate agents, car dealers, and taxi drivers — and much more, all would’ve been permitted to discriminate at will by the Idaho measure, against anybody, as long as it was justified by a claim of religious exemption. (Status: Returned to committee and probably will not pass this session.)

The Kansas bill was more straightforward in its anti-gay animus, although the GOP Teajadis were loose enough in their language — perhaps to try to make the gay-hating not quite so obvious — that they would’ve made it legal to discriminate against anybody on the basis of their relationship or living situation. Single mothers, divorced persons, hetero couples who want to live together but not marry, all eligible for discrimination. Want to discriminate against an interracial hetero married couple? Go right ahead.

Most infamously, the Kansas bill extended discrimination privileges to both private and public employees. So yes, a police officer could refuse to intervene in the beating of a gay person, even if it was happening right in front of him. A doctor could refuse to treat a gay person suffering from a heart attack. A schoolteacher could refuse to teach girls if he believed women should not learn how to read. (Status: Stalled and might not pass due to the uproar, but anti-gay bigots vow to keep trying to pass the measure.)

The Tennessee bill is very similar to the one Kansas was/is considering, and just as bigoted and intolerant:

According to the bill, no person or religious and denominational organization will be required to perform a laundry list of actions “related to the celebration of any civil union, domestic partnership, or marriage not recognized by the state, if doing so would violate the sincerely held religious beliefs of the person or religious or denominational organization regarding sex and gender.”

This includes providing services, facilities, counseling, employment and employment benefits.

(BTW, they also made sure that it was 100% okay to discriminate against transgender folks. That’s in there too.)

The problem is that word ‘celebration’ might mean something to one person — like let’s say a wedding reception. But put yourself in the mind of a bigot. (Don’t worry, we have plenty of brain bleach on hand.) The kind of bigot who thinks that two people walking down the street, holding hands, are ‘flaunting’ their relationship. (Only if they’re gay, of course.) Such a person can and will easily redefine “celebrate” as “merely existing and being visible where I can see them.”

In case you think I’m reaching, consider that second sentence up there. “This includes providing services, facilities, counseling, employment, and employment benefits.”

Can any of you recall the last time you attended a wedding with an officiating couples therapist? Or an in-church Job Fair?

It’s for damned sure they’re not just looking out for the homophobic florists and wedding cake bakers. Anyway, once again, it looks like the public shaming is still working. The status of the Tennessee bill is it just lost an important Republican sponsor, State Senator Brian Kelsey, and was sent back to committee where it’s expected to die. This time.

Sadly though, the Arizona House passed the bill, intact, and it’s now on Governor Jan Brewer’s desk, waiting for her signature. She vetoed a similar bill last year as part of a budget disagreement, but has said nothing in objection to this blatantly unconstitutional measure. Most of the reports I’ve seen predict Brewer will sign this hateful mess into law.

The fact there are so many of these homophobic laws being introduced is no coincidence

By now you may be wondering why the same types of bills are popping up in GOP-controlled legislatures all over America now. Well, just like it was with the “gays are bad for children” talking points cropping up all over the globe, originating with bogus BS ‘studies’ published by Regnerus, Marks and others and funded by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), this effort is being coordinated, too.

As reported by Al Jazeera America:

Cornerstone in Idaho, the Kansas Family Policy Council, and the Center for Arizona Policy, which supports the bill there, are all part of a network of 38 state “family policy councils” pressing for these laws under the umbrella of Citizen Link, the advocacy arm of the conservative Christian powerhouse Focus on the Family.

The religious right Phelps clan protesting outside the Supreme Court during the DOMA and Prop 8 oral arguments.  © John Aravosis 2013

The religious right Phelps clan protesting outside the Supreme Court during the DOMA and Prop 8 oral arguments. © John Aravosis 2013

Focus on the Family is James Dobson’s hate-mill, by the way, now headed by Jim Daly. Another backer is the American Religious Freedom Program, headed by Brian Walsh — who disingenuously claims these efforts are nothing more than trying to ensure that priests and florists don’t have to participate in Big Gay Weddings. And the ARFP sounds familiar, that’s because it’s part of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think-tank and lobbying organization run by Ed Whelan, former Reagan official in the DoJ and also former clerk for Justice Scalia.

The fact that it’s legal to discriminate against LGBTs in many states is nothing new. Twenty-nine states already have some form of ‘religious exemption’. But now this AFRP group has drafted its wide-reaching bill, and according to reports in the Wichita Eagle, has been shopping it around to state legislatures around the country.

Brian Walsh, executive director of the ARFP, which supports religious freedom measures, acknowledges that his group consulted with the legislators on the bill, but he says that lots of other groups did as well: “We gave them suggestions and they took some of them.” Walsh says that ARFP was contacted by legislators who wrote the Tennessee bill and that the group frequently talked to legislators in South Dakota about “religious freedom” but not the state’s specific bill. Julie Lynde, executive director of Cornerstone Family Council in Idaho, one of many state groups that are part of Citizen Link, a branch of Focus on the Family, told Al Jazeera America, “We’ve been involved in working on the language” of the Idaho bill. Another member of Citizen Link, the Arizona Policy Center, has been active in supporting the Arizona bill.

Why the sloppy “discriminate against anybody you want” language in these bills?

I’ve long been of the opinion that along with bigotry goes ignorance, and quite often stupidity. Some, for sure, have the thuggish cleverness of the bully, coming up always with new ways to make people they perceive as weaker than them suffer. Indignities to be visited upon their victims — and I feel certain that most of these homophobes take a cruel glee out of the idea of ruining what’s often touted as any couple’s “happiest day,” their wedding ceremony and celebration.

That’s why I think that many of these Republican state legislators falling all over themselves to enshrine anti-gay animus in their state laws and constitutions probably don’t even think through the consequences of their hateful actions. A lot of them seem to be sincere when they say they’re only trying to protect those oh-so-suffering Fundamentalist Christian florists and caterers.

I look instead toward where this is all coming from: The Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Religion is the excuse. Gays, lesbians and transgender folks are the wedge issue. Hate-groups like Focus on the Family, NOM, FRC, and the rest are the foot soldiers. State legislators are the true believers, the paid-for enablers, and the useful idiots.

What is the actual goal?

In my opinion, Whelan’s organization didn’t write a sloppy bill to shop around. I believe the bill does exactly what it means to do, which is something the far-right conservatives have been itching to do ever since the first sweeping civil rights bills were passed in the 1960s: Repeal them.

Not just some, and not just to enable anti-gay and anti-trans discrimination, but all of the equal rights laws. Using ‘religious freedom’ as the cudgel to roll back women’s reproductive freedoms is just another prong of the attack.

After all, let’s not forget how their vision of America’s Golden Age is the fictional white-bread Ozzy & Harriett 1950s, when discrimination of all kinds was legal and segregation the norm. The time when the phrase “That’s mighty white of you” didn’t draw stares. When women held positions of employment no higher than secretary and abortions were almost universally illegal. And when gay people, of course, were reviled and shunned.

That, I believe, is the bigger picture.

In some respects, I take heart from these flailing efforts of theirs, because it reeks of desperation. Just as with women’s rights and reproductive freedoms, religious conservatives are trying to carve out special rights for themselves, exemptions from the movement toward full equality for all LGBT Americans. Plus, as I said, I do think the big enchilada is to try to repeal or overturn all the civil rights laws.

I’m glad to see the bigots on the defensive, I really am. But with the mid-term elections coming up and the relentless nature of the forces of hatred and intolerance, and especially given how radical they’ve become, complacency is one attitude we absolutely cannot afford right now.

Published professional writer and poet, Becca had a three decade career in technical writing and consulting before selling off most of her possessions in 2006 to go live at an ashram in India for 3 years. She loves literature (especially science fiction), technology and science, progressive politics, cool electronic gadgets, and perfecting Hatch green chile recipes. Fortunately for this last, Becca and her wife currently live in New Mexico. @BeccaMorn

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