This week Arizona legislators tried to update their religious liberty bill with amendment SB-1062. The media quickly responded by labeling it the “anti-gay bill” or the “gay-hate bill” (e.g. CNN, BBC, USA Today, LA Times, MSNBC, NBC, Yahoo). Perhaps in response to this rhetoric, many within the Republican party sought to distance themselves from the bill, and yesterday, Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, vetoed the bill.
Republican’s desire to distance themselves from “gay-hate” is certainly understandable. No one, regardless of political party, should be comfortable with hateful or spiteful behavior. Still, I can’t help but think this bill died from poor marketing, not because it promoted hate.
I think these three points, if discussed more fully, may have helped prevent the marketing catastrophe that killed SB-1062.
1. The bill is not directed towards homosexual people. We should at least admit that it is strange for the bill to be almost universally referred to by the media as the “anti-gay bill” when it never even mentions homosexual people or practices. When we see a bill referred to as something that it doesn’t even address, we should be on the lookout for spin.
Of course, the bill is a response, at least in part, to actual instances where small business owners refused to participate in homosexual marriages because of religious objections. But the law would just as easily apply to the Muslim barber who refused to cut a woman’s hair because of religious objections. I won’t deny that people who hate homosexuals, and even people who hate women, may find it easier to discriminate against the people they hate because of this bill. However, this is not the same thing as promoting, or even condoning, that hatred.
The point is that the bill was written to address the rights of religious people. Perhaps one could argue that the bill gives religious people too much power. But to suggest that the bill was written to promote hate or encourage discrimination is unfounded.
2. Homosexual people are not the only victims. Homosexual people, and women for that matter, are often victims of hateful behavior. They have been mistreated, bullied, raped, and even murdered. Hateful people have sought out ways to target them and to ruin their lives. This behavior is wrong and we should not minimize that fact. But we should also recognize that hateful people have also targeted some religious people in order to ruin their lives.
Consider the vendors who have refused service because of their religious beliefs. Each of these vendors are small business owners. Though I don’t have access to actual figures, I assume that most bakers, florists, and barbers are living on relatively modest incomes. These people weren’t activists seeking to leverage power against those they hate. Nevertheless, they are facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and, in some cases, jail time. With penalties like these, it seems clear that these vendors will lose their businesses because of their choice. Whether or not these vendors are right to refuse service, we should recognize that they are paying a very high price for their religious convictions.
3. This is not a win-win situation. No matter how this is resolved, someone loses. The question isn’t if someone will be the victim of discrimination, the question is who is allowed to discriminate?
In each instance of discrimination, both parties believe they are victims of discrimination, and both parties are right. It’s absolutely true that the homosexual couple is discriminated against when the vendor won’t participate in their wedding. It’s also true that the government is discriminating against the vendors when they are told that they cannot practice their religion in this regard. Similarly, it’s true that women are being discriminated against when the Muslim barber is unwilling to touch her hair. But it’s also true that he is being discriminated against by the government when it tells him that the cannot practice his religion in this regard. Both parties are victims of discrimination, I can’t see a way out of this problem.
The question that this bill addresses is who can discriminate? Which form of discrimination is more troublesome? Are you content to live in a country where the government allows private parties to discriminate in an attempt to prevent itself from discrimination? The other option is a government that discriminates in order to prevent private parties from discrimination. Either way, discrimination will happen. The question is, whose discrimination are we more willing to endure?
I can’t help but think that if people thought that this bill was not an attack against homosexuals, but simply an attempt to protect everyday people and an honest attempt for the lesser of two evils, it may have been more successful. What do you think?