Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The law is an ass

I wanted to say something about Arizona’s pending anti-gay law, but I just couldn’t find the right words, despite several attempts. Then I realised that what I’d already posted made the main points I would’ve.

The frenzy to pass such anti-gay laws, however, is a topic in it itself.

It’s clear and obvious these laws are motivated by anti-gay animus, and nothing else. Mother Jones recently reported that these laws are part of a coordinated rightwing effort. I think it’s fair to call it a rightwing conspiracy, designed to change the debate from one about achieving the full human and civil rights of LGBT people, to one in which we are the oppressor. Suddenly what we used to call “the business world” has been re-defined as a place of religion. Suddenly, the group that has been marginalised and prevented from having the same rights as all other citizens has been redefined as intolerant enemies of religious freedom.

The radical right has succeeded in redefining the debate on that one issue, convincing otherwise sensible people that laws must be passed to “protect” business activities from gay people, only those ordinary business activities have been re-defined as “religious freedom” by the radical right. One almost has to admire the evil genius behind this thinking, because declaring that up is down is one thing, but getting people to go along with that is something altogether different, and much more difficult.

Here are some reality checks. First, the radical right has deliberately misled people by suggesting religious people might go to jail for refusing to do business with LGBT people. The fact is, breaking anti-discrimination laws is NOT a criminal offence anywhere in the USA. If a business broke anti-discrimination laws, was found guilty, fined and the “good Christians” refused to pay the fine, they could be shut down by their locality, but that’s about as far as it goes. No prison time—that’s a rightwing lie.

Even though the rightwing is lying about the “threat” to “good Christians”, the single most important reality of all is this: All but one of the states where these anti-gay bills have been proposed have NO statewide laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination (Oregon, which will endure a referendum this year on one of these anti-gay laws, does have statewide protections). While some of these states may have local ordinances, the states themselves don’t, and that means that most businesses in most of the states where these laws are being pushed are free to discriminate against LGBT people with impunity and they’ll face NO penalties for doing so. Let me restate that: Businesses in most of the states are free to discriminate against LGBT people right now, without any law explicitly making it legal to do so.

This means that there is NO “threat” and the radical right is lying when they say there is one.

The rightwing is using the arrival of marriage equality as their justification, and they hide their true motivation—hatred of LGBT people—behind a camouflage curtain, pretending it’s about “religious freedom” when it is not.

The “religious freedom” justification being used by the radical right is particularly disgusting, not because there aren't really “Christian” fundamentalists who hate gay people—we all know there are. What makes it disgusting is that it’s merely a cynical ploy to hide their bigotry, to manipulate otherwise rational people who would never endorse anti-gay bigotry into supporting—or, at least, not opposing—the right’s hatred-motivated laws.

If the “Christians” had said, “we hate gay people and we want to be able to discriminate against them”, no one but their fellow bigots would go along with that. But when they say, “as a person of faith, my religious freedom is being assaulted because of same-sex marriage, which my religion rejects, so I need protection,” well, there are plenty of people who might think that was reasonable.

The radical right would never—ever—get away with saying, “as a person of faith, my religious freedom is being assaulted because I’m forced to treat Black people equally, which my religion rejects, so I need protection.” However, the radicals have successfully manipulated the public debate to make mainstream people believe that anti-gay “Christians” are facing some sort of “persecution” because of marriage equality. So, the hatred implicit in their political moves is hidden from view.

This is merely another of their lies: Christians in the USA are not now, nor have they ever been, nor are they ever likely to become, “victims” of some sort of oppression. Can’t happen, won’t happen. Their core argument is that a couple businesses deliberately broke local anti-discrimination laws and were rightly penalised and that somehow therefore means that ALL rightwing Christians are being “oppressed”. That nonsense would be hilariously funny if it wasn't so serious.

So, the justifications for these laws are built on lies and distortion, they seek to fix a problem that doesn’t exist, and they’re completely unnecessary because anti-gay discrimination in those states is already legal. Why are they doing this?

There are two largely separate reasons: Politics and religion. Politicians are, in many cases, pandering to the base of the Republican Party. They may not be bigots themselves, but they want to stay elected, so they do what the most vocal members of their party demand. Others see it as a ploy to increase votes for Republicans from radical right voters (a Karl Rove tactic), voters who support such extreme measures and will turn out to support politicians who do, too. So, for many politicians, it's all about cynical politics.

The other strain, though, are the religious true believers who are sure that LGBT people are inherently doomed sinners who will go straight, so to speak, to hell if they don’t repent and give up their “choice” to be gay. They really believe that human sexuality is a mere choice, and as easy to make or change as it is to choose what colour shirt one will wear. Well, not so easy: They think their devil somehow “lures” people into being gay and makes life is so sweet for gay people that kids will be tempted into “choosing” to be gay.

Rational people know that there’s not a shred of evidence to back those myths about LGBT people “choosing” not to be heterosexual, or that they could easily “choose” to be heterosexual. Rational people also know that it’s impossible to “lure” anyone into being gay if they are not actually gay. But fundamentalist Christians—who by definition don’t deal in the rational world—don’t care what science tells us (about a great many things, of course), and they don’t accept what even common sense tells them.

This is an important thing to know about these people, because in their irrational minds, their bigoted laws are actually for LGBT people’s own good. They really believe that if they make life hard enough for LGBT people, if they make us suffer enough, we’ll “come to our senses” and “choose” to be heterosexual “again”. It’s why they back criminal penalties for being gay in the USA, and why they promote the death penalty for LGBT people overseas (and sometimes in the US): If they can be harsh enough against us, they think, if they can make us fear for our very lives, we’ll be forced to see the “error” of our ways and “return” to being heterosexual.

So, we have an unholy alliance between crassly cynical and opportunistic politicians together with the most irrational end of Christianity, working together to enshrine fundamentalists’ religious views in law. It seems pretty obvious to me that if there really was a devil, THIS is the alliance it’d be backing.

These laws also have at their heart selfish arrogance. The radical right wants to raise their irrational religious beliefs above everyone else and to force the world to accept their right to do so. But LGBT people pay taxes, too. Those roads that fundamentalists drive on to get to their businesses? Gay people helped pay for them. The water and sewerage that serves those businesses? Yep, gay people helped pay for them. Likewise fire and police protection.

So, the fundamentalists are demanding the right to refuse to do business with gay people, the same people whose taxes help make it possible for them to run their businesses in the first place. Would fundamentalists support a tax rebate to compensate LGBT taxpayers for having to subsidise businesses where they’re not welcome?

Finally, there’s one bit of wonderful irony about this whole frenzy to enshrine anti-gay hatred in law: As Roger Green pointed out, they’re also opening the door to allowing sharia law in those states—you know, the thing that doesn’t exist anywhere in the USA, though that fact doesn’t stop conservatives from screaming hysterically about the imaginary threat sharia law poses. Well, it may very well exist as an unintended consequence from basing public, secular law on placing religious belief above other laws.

The bottom line is, these laws are based entirely on bigotry, marketed using lies and distortions, and built on a base of sheer stupidity. Typical rightwing nonsense, sure, but this time they threaten to do real harm to real people.

And that’s the worst part of all.

The image at the top of this post is a sign on a restaurant, taken in Lancaster, Ohio, August 1938. It is by Ben Shahn (1898–1969) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. The image at the bottom of the post was shared on the Facebook Page of Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria, a Tucson, Arizona restaurant.


rogerogreen said...

All of what you say. But it also points out that what we REALLY need in this country (USA) is an expanded Civil Rights Act of 1964 - http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/about/history/CivilRightsAct.cfm which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, the 50th anniversary of which is July 2 of this year. (Guess what I'll be blogging about July 2 of THIS year, I JUST decided?.)

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

What amazes me is that I grew up in the Civil Rights era, and I just assumed that it was a settled matter, though we needed to expand protections. Now, there's a major rightwing pushback, arguing against the very need for protections. I honestly never thought we'd be re-fighting the same issues.