Martyn Fitzgerald looks at Arizona's recent anti-gay segregation bill
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Seventeen US states have so far legalised marriage, but one, Arizona, is bucking the trend with an inventive piece of legislation awaiting approval from Governor Jan Brewer. Passed by both the Republican controlled state Senate and House, bill SB 1062 will become law if not vetoed by Brewer. Broadly, it will allow business owners to refuse to serve gay people on the grounds that do so is an infringement of their religious freedom. The irony is LGBT people already have no laws protecting them from discrimination in Arizona, so this is perhaps just a reassurance to the righteous that their discrimination is lawful.
It must be presumed that not too many people both gay or straight have sex in open places of business: no frottage at the reception desk or rumpy pumpy at the salad bar, so this bill excludes behaviour as its premise and instead targets a person’s being. Conservative Christians can’t have it both ways: many say homosexuality is either chosen, or a psychological flaw that can be cured, but not so many admit that it is an intrinsic part of a person’s being - that it is natural. This would mean that either their understanding of human psychology, God or Scripture, is wrong. In effect they choose to objectify homosexuality as a disorder or else as a dehumanised, subversive political monster attacking their way of life, ignoring the simple fact that some people are just born that way. But as they are not objecting to a person’s immediate behaviour in public we must assume they are accepting gay people as intrinsically gay - and stating that they do not wish to be near such people.
The claim that being in the vicinity of gay people restricts religious freedom is a clear nonsense. My gayness does not affect your beliefs or ability to carry out your life as you see fit. It may offend you, but no one has the right to not be offended. Many religious beliefs offend me but that’s just tough, I have to suck it up. If we are to live in a pluralistic society (and there is no going back from that) then we need to learn to behave in public. Whether we think the person in front of us is going to hell for crimes against nature and God, or conversely is considered a bigot, there has to be a base level of accepting everyone’s equality in public and right to be treated with, at the very least, respect. We need to learn to disagree without hysteria. This bill is the antithesis of that: uncivilized, discriminatory, mean. Given America’s past with black prejudice it’s surprising this kind of message is being put out under the disingenuous guise of religious freedom.
Already in the face of a nationwide backlash those who voted for it are having second thoughts; business leaders are deeming it unwise and even some conservative Christians can see it for the pernicious piece of rubbish it is. Like Anita Bryant’s failed anti-gay crusades forty years ago, this will eventually fall to common sense, decency and economic sensibilities.
Words: Martyn Fitzgerald (@mfitzgeralduk)