This evening Governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062 and ended the journey of a piece of legislation designed to enshrine the ability to discriminate against the LGBT community under the guise of religious freedom. The viral attention the passing of the bill received led to an enormous amount of social, political and, most importantly, business pressure on the Governor to veto the law. And she did. And that is certainly cause for celebration.
The celebration is not for Governor Brewer; she is still the same Governor who championed Arizona SB 1070, the harshest immigration law in the country. She made racial profiling the law, unless we’re going to pretend that law enforcement in Arizona stopping likely illegal immigrants is also stopping all of the kind white people they meet and assuming they are Canadians.
After the national media firestorm focused on Arizona, many of SB 1062 supporters backed off of the anti-LGBT sentiments, but early on they stated very clearly that this was in response to a court case in New Mexico against a Christian photographer who refused to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony. Later, the claim was made that this was about protecting the ability of individuals to hold their religious beliefs publicly and in business, not about being anti-gay. However, since being gay is not one of the protected classes in Arizona, while race, religion, age, sex, disability and even HIV status are, the combination of these two laws would have essentially created the legal right to discriminate only against legally unprotected LGBT citizens in housing, employment and services and claim that it was because of deeply held religious beliefs.
Today’s victory is not in the veto of the bill. The real victory is that this idea to protect religious-based bigotry was introduced as actual legislation and then it was socially, politically and economically torpedoed. Here’s why.
There has been an ongoing theme in the farthest right media that there is a war on Christianity happening in our country. They propose the idea that Christians are being persecuted for their beliefs and complain that the only publicly acceptable intolerance in our country is intolerance toward Christian principles and beliefs. They scream this loudly every time they oppose marriage equality to shut down the discussion of equal treatment under the law.
The impact of this idea permeates more subtly into mainstream media coverage of LGBT rights. When someone states that their opposition to gay marriage is based in their religious beliefs, the conversation stops. Every time. There is no push back from the interviewer as they try to respect the speaker’s first amendment right to freedom of religion.
The result is that it has continued to propagate the idea that bigotry against the LGBT community is acceptable if it is based in religion. It has been the motivating factor behind state constitutional amendments defining marriage, and it has been allowed to continue because no one in the media wants to say to someone “well, then your religious beliefs are bigoted.” Even though they are.
Arizona finally showed us what happens when that desire to proclaim bigotry as a religious principle is taken so far as to be articulated as a law not related to the marriage discussion. This law took the complicated nature of using the word “marriage” out of the equation and made it simply about bigotry. It simplified the issue into an even more black and white scenario.
The opposition response was overwhelming, and that is important. Marriage may be a complicated word for many religious individuals, but equal treatment on other fronts, based on the coalition of individuals, organizations and businesses disgusted by this law, is quite clearly not. SB 1062 was finally a clear cut example of trying to legally hide bigotry behind a religious shield. They pushed too far, and they lost. Dramatically. And we as a nation needed to see that happen.
It has not mattered how often those who support marriage equality have drawn parallels to how religion was used to oppose equal rights for African-Americans, the right of women to vote and interracial marriage. Those who oppose gay rights refuse to see it. They believe they are being persecuted. They believe they have the constitutional right to proclaim their religious beliefs.
And they do. They just don’t have the right to make the law of the land in accordance with their religious beliefs, or be applauded for being bigots. They don’t have the right to discriminate in their businesses because of their religious beliefs either.
There has been an ongoing refusal to acknowledge the reality that religious beliefs are not excluded from the judgment of society and the fact that an individual holds an opinion because it is part of their religion doesn’t make it more valid than someone who holds an opinion because unicorns dancing through a field told them they should. They are all opinions, and all subject to acceptance or rejection by our greater society.
If your religion believed murder was a tribute to God, murder would still be illegal. If your religion believed that short people carry a plague destined to destroy humanity, you could not attack the vertically-challenged on the street. And if your religion believes that gay people are going to hell, you still have to serve them if they show up at your restaurant. You cannot fire them because of who they love. You can claim they are destroying the family and fabric of society, but you cannot demand that the rest of us agree with you or even that we hide our disgust when you make such claims.
The real victory in the widespread derision of Arizona’s SB 1062 is the clear example it sets that yes, you get to believe anything you want if it is a part of your personal religion. However, you do not now, nor will you ever, get to make the laws of our cities, states and nation match your beliefs if the rest of us believe they enshrine the ability to treat even one single American as a second-class citizen.
So, thanks Arizona! Sorry for all the crazy your intelligent, accepting and welcoming citizens have had to deal with for the last week, but the object lesson was incredibly and vitally necessary. To the other states with similar legislation pending – we’re coming for you too.