I admit to having been blindsided by the Arizona state legislature's passage of Senate Bill 1062. In these days of social media and instant news updates, this is the first time I remember being so completely surprised by such an anti-gay development. The day the legislation was passed, the usual e-mails arrived in my in box from gay rights campaigners, but there was no mention of Arizona. It was self-congratulatory "look at all the progress we've made on marriage" blah blah blah, along with a small footnote about the anti-gay bill in Kansas, which didn't pass. Where was everybody while SB1062 was being debated in Phoenix? Legislation is a matter of public record; this should not have been hidden under a bushel, in the New Testament metaphor.
I'm bringing the New Testament into this because we are told that this bill is anti-discrimination. Those who voted for it say that it is the only way to protect sincerely believing religious people from being discriminated against, by gay people who want to pay them for their services. As absurd as this sounds, I'm trying to address this on its own terms: What makes this a bad piece of legislation for everyone, quite apart from its targeting of gay people?
The religion that is being protected here is, of course, Christian. And one particular strand of Christian belief--not all Christian views, let alone the views of all Christians. This is important:
"According to a poll by Third Way and the Human Rights Campaign 69 percent of Americans don’t think a business owner should be allowed to refuse to provide products or services to an individual because that person is gay or lesbian, compared to an incredibly small 15% that do. And when asked about small business owners in particular, a full 68% of Americans don’t think they should be able to refuse service to gays or lesbians, regardless of their religious beliefs. This supermajority included 55% of Republicans, 75% of Independents, 67% of people without college degrees, and 68% of Christians"* (emphasis mine).
As others have pointed out, there is nothing in the law that wouldn't equally protect a Muslim taxi driver from refusing to accept a woman passenger on her own, for example, but that is not the "sincere belief" we are talking about. We are talking about the sincere belief that homosexuality, and same-sex coupledom, is wrong.
However cynical I suspect the lawmakers of being, let's not underplay the fact that this is a sincere belief. Many Americans hold it, and the right-wing talk show circus has convinced them that they are being persecuted by us. This is a crucial understanding. Unlike in the old days of black-white segregation, everyone now agrees that discrimination is unacceptable. What the supposed beneficiaries of this legislation believe is that they are the ones discriminated against, rather than LGBT people.
Now, this is interesting because it is the businesses of Arizona who are being protected by SB1062--not the customers. If a lesbian customer goes to a florist, say, and discovers that the florists are uncomfortable providing flowers for her same-sex wedding, what is she going to do? (Though to be sure, a homophobic florist is hard to imagine.) She will take her business and spend her money somewhere else. Those of us who were gay in twentieth-century America have always done this. We assumed that people were going to have a problem with our sexuality, and we sought out gay or gay-friendly businesses who were the exception. Remember the maxim of TDT’s last post: Tolerance of sexual difference is always the exception. It has never been the rule.
Increasingly though, in the past two decades, it has become the rule among American businesses. After all, we have money to spend, and more and more Americans agree that our sexuality is, well, our own business. The Republican party is always saying that it is the party of business in the U.S., that it’s there to look after the interests of business. Why do businesses need protecting from the dollars of gay Americans and Americans who think there is nothing wrong with gay people?
If a business consistently turns down customers because it doesn’t like dealing with them, that business is in trouble. But that’s not discrimination, any more than a top 40 radio station is “discriminating”against Peter, Paul and Mary by not playing folk music. Good business means moving with the times, and trying to get as large a share of the customer base as possible. If a person’s sincere belief is that they should only serve some people, may I suggest that s/he is not going to be a very successful businessperson.
I hope that Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, vetoes this bill. "I think anybody that owns a business can choose who they work with or who they don't work with," she told CNN in Washington on Friday. "But I don't know that it needs to be statutory. In my life and in my businesses, if I don't want to do business or if I don't want to deal with a particular company or person or whatever, I'm not interested. That's America. That's freedom."
If Governor Brewer does not veto SB1062, there is little doubt that it will fail in court eventually, because it violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution—equal protection under the law. What hasn’t been said enough is that it also violates the First Amendment, by privileging one religion (in fact one strand of that religion) over others and attempting to establish that religion by the state.
The U.S.A. was founded by people who distrusted the establishment of religion. Christianity, and other faiths, have flourished in America in large part because their expression is free, and to the extent that people of different faiths can still work and do business with one another. Legislating in the name of the Christian religion is bad for business, and it is bad for Christianity.