And following Brewer’s veto, Ohio legislators have pulled their version of the same bill, while Mississippi lawmakers (yes, Mississippi) have stripped the Arizona-esque portions of their pending “religious freedom” bill. (More on those states below.)
The so-called “religious freedom” legislation, which has been shopped around the country to GOP lawmakers by an unnamed organization, passed the Arizona state legislature late last week and has been sitting on the governor’s desk for her possible signature.
In the ensuing days, the issue exploded.
Not only were gay rights advocates and the typical liberal allies incensed, but business leaders and even national Republican voices like Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Florida Governor Rick Scott, and Arizona GOP Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake called on Brewer to veto the bill.
A friend of mine had an interesting theory as to why there was such an outcry against this bill. It’s not enough to say that SB1062 was really anti-gay (even though it was). Lots of homophobic legislation gets passed in the states, some of it even in Arizona. And it’s not enough to say that this bill was particularly homophobic. I’m not sure anything strikes the GOP base as “particularly homophobic,” regardless of how nasty it is. My friend thinks, however, that Brewer didn’t want to be seen as Putin. He thinksk that Russian homophobia has been so showcased over the lead-up to the Olympics, that even American conservatives don’t want to be seen as being as bad as “them.”
I have a different theory. I think, in part, times are-a-changing, and it’s getting harder and harder for politicians to be anti-gay because the country, overall, isn’t (well, not as much as they were). And to the degree we still are a homophobic country, it’s not with the vehemence there was once on our issues. Sure, the religious right still hates gays’ guts, but a growing number of Republican lawmakers probably couldn’t care less.
And GOP voters feel the same. A lot probably don’t care about the culture wars, particularly younger voters. And we know the Republicans have been increasingly fretting about their dwindling prospects among youth, gays, blacks, women and Latinos. I think they saw SB1062 as yet another golden opportunity to shoot the GOP in the foot as it tries, somewhat unsuccessfully, to rebrand itself as the party of kinder bigotry and gentler intolerance.
And finally, the bill was doomed because it did go too far. And not just against the gays, against everyone. Even Jews, Mormons, and Catholics started wondering if SB1062 meant they might get turned away from a business, or a hospital, that didn’t like their faith. And businesses were scared to death of the bill, which seemed to suggest that anyone could vitiate any contractual arrangement, or court order, if the Bible tells them so. It’s awfully hard to do business when you can no longer trust the basic tenets of contract law.
Phoenix isn’t Moscow. Arizona would have to go a long way to become as bad as Putin’s Russia. In Russia, they passed a law last year that makes it practically illegal to be openly gay at all. And at the same time, gays are now being kidnapped by neo-Nazi gangs, and the Putin regime, which once only gave a tacit nod of approval to the thugs, is now openly defending the Hitler-loving kidnappers (while NYC and NY state invest in the oligarch who controls the company the neo-Nazis use to organize their crimes). None of that is happening in Phoenix.
But what is happening in Arizona, and far too many states, is a decades-old effort to demonize gays and lesbians, led by the religious right, and incessantly quarterbacked by the Republican party. And their legislative gay-bashing has reinforced a culture of intolerance that leads to, among other things, violence against gays and lesbians, but also other groups the Republicans think less of, be they Latino, black, female or an immigrant.
So no, Arizona isn’t Russia. But Arizona tried to put itself on the path to becoming Russia. And the issue, thankfully, blew up in its face.
And then a funny thing happened. Just a few minutes ago, Ohio legislators announced that they were pulling similar legislation that was being offered in their state.
And Mississippi has now reportedly scaled back similar legislation it’s considering, so as not to repeat the mistakes of Arizona (though, obviously, people are going to need to scour that bill to make sure it’s not as bad).
The subcommittee removed a key provision of SB 2681 ahead of Thursday’s consideration of the bill by the House Judiciary Committee B. The provision provides that a defendant in a discrimination lawsuit can assert a claim of defense on the grounds of a burden being placed on religious beliefs.
The ACLU said the provision would allow businesses to turn away customers on religious grounds and government officials to refuse to hire based on religious beliefs.
Seeking to quell the tide of state and national opposition that has grown the past couple of days, the Civil Subcommittee voted to mold the bill after the federal government’s 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The amendment limits the bill to addressing actions by government — not individuals or businesses.
The amended bill is far more acceptable to the Mississippi business community, said Blake Wilson, president & CEO of the Mississippi Economic Council, which serves as the state Chamber of Commerce.
Keep in mind that Mississippi only “officially” abolished slavery last year. So if this stuff is too repugnant for even Mississippi, it’s gotta be really bad.
In the end, the religious right may have done us all a favor. By so over-reaching in their zeal to bash gays, they may have finally put a stake through the heart of this legislation once and for all. Boy, I’d hate to be the religious right group that pedaled this garbage across to the nation to all those all-too-willing GOP lawmakers. Someone’s got some explaining to do.