At this writing, Arizona governor Jan Brewer has vetoed State Senate Bill 1062, a piece of legislation supposedly designed to add protection for the religious freedom of individuals and businesses by allowing them to refuse service to gays. Or, whoever they assumed to be gay.
As much as one wants to celebrate, to believe 1062 was just another bubble rising from the boiling cauldron of fundamentalist intolerance, now dissipated, it is not that simple. Hold your huzzahs.
Waiting in the wings is Pennsylvania State Representative Gordon Denlinger (R) who intends to introduce his own gay discrimination bill, and Texas governor Rick Perry, poised to battle U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s ruling, mere hours before Brewer’s veto, that the Texas ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
The root of the legislation was not–as the legislators insisted–constituents’ religious freedom, but the unleashing of intolerance. Specifically, 1062 targeted gays, but it was so broadly, fuzzily worded that it would have bled back into embracing every other prejudice this country has worked so hard and long to extirpate.
If a restaurant server can use “religious freedom” to refuse a gay couple service (are all same-sex couples dining together gay?), a Muslim restaurant owner could refuse service to unveiled women; Catholics refuse Baptists who do not believe in transubstantiation; white servers refuse blacks at their lunch counters.
In the end, 1062 was overturned not because it was, in Jon Stewart’s words, “morally repugnant”, but rather as New Yorker columnist Andy Borowitz explained, because Arizonans confronted “the awkward realization that gays buy stuff.”
None of those claiming their religious rights are being trampled acknowledges that large numbers of GLBT individuals also frequent churches, temples, or mosques, and many churches of their own faiths now embrace openly gay clergy. Do the Arizona, Texas, and Pennsylvania lawmakers truly believe that people of faith are threatening their own religious beliefs?
Bigotry is bigotry, continuing to work throughout our country in its Hydra-headed forms: sexual, religious, racial. In February, three Ole Miss students put a noose around a statue of James Meredith–their university’s first black student whose enrollment in 1962 precipitated riots. America has by no means eradicated racism: the anti-gays are just gearing up, using “endangered religious freedom” as their battle cry.