Just what went wrong?

Quit squirming cartoon.
“Quit squirming!”
It’s no coincidence that about a dozen states are all trying to pass virtually identical laws specifically permitting anyone discriminate against anyone else so long as it was because of their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” A lot of the so-called pro-family organizations have been lobbying legislators in every state and providing an already written bill, ultimately coming from an ultra conservative think tank called the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Right now, everyone is declaring a gay rights victory because a big enough stink was raised and the Governor of Arizona vetoed her state’s version of the bill. I think that’s wrong for a couple of reasons…

First, Arizona doesn’t have any law protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people from discrimination. In other words, it is already legal in Arizona for a business to hang up a sign that says “No Gays Allowed” and face no legal or regulatory consequences.

Second, while certainly the legislators sponsoring these bills in every state have all been repeating the same sob story of those poor bakers who got in trouble for violating other states’ anti-discrimination laws for refusing to sell wedding cakes to gays, the bills aren’t about discrimination only against gay people. They’re about any and all kinds of discrimination.

The bill, by expanding the definitions of person to include private businesses, corporations, and non-profit organizations, and allowing the religious liberty defense to be invoked when no government action is involved, and specifying that the religious belief in question is not required to be compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief, the bill declared open season on everyone.

Seriously, under this bill, if a white paramedic refused to provide medical treatment to a dying black person and the black person died, the paramedic could claim his personal interpretation of the Bible says that black people have the Mark of Cain and they must not be touched. He could not be fired for intentionally letting the person die, he could not be charged with negligence for letting the person die, and any medical association would be forbidden from revoking his certification for intentionally letting the person die.

Or, let’s say a police officer responds to a call about a domestic disturbance. He sees that a man has physically assaulted his wife. The cop can say to the woman, “The Bible says you’re supposed to submit to him,” and then walk away. Again, as long as the cop claims it’s his religious belief, the department isn’t allowed to discipline him in any way, nor can he be charged or sued by the wife who was being beaten.

And if the wife manages to get to a prosecutor’s office herself and try to file charges against her husband? Her husband can make a similar religious belief claim.

Or let’s say a poll worker refuses to give ballots to women, because he claims God’s socks told him women shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Again, he’s free to do so without facing any consequences.

Since all of these bills carry all of these same provisions, and given just how long the Ethics and Public Policy Center has been pushing to repeal the Voting Rights Act and every other civil rights law out there, I think the so-called unintended consequences of this bill are not the slightest bit unintentional.

I believe the real authors of the bill want to roll back all the civil rights advances of the last 50 years. Yes, they do want to chase all gay people back into the closet, and would love to be able to go back to the days of cops being able to raid gay bars and beat the patrons with impunity. But they also want racially segregated public places. They want to be able to exclude people who have different religions, or at least make them all hide those differences. They want to replace the glass ceiling with something far more rigid.

They want to turn back the clock to a kind of mythical version of the 50s—or whenever they thought the Good Old Days when “girls were girls and men were men” and specifically the white, Christian, straight men were the ones always in charge.

Stopping the law in this one place is another setback for them, but even though the bills have been stalling out in other legislatures, these guys aren’t giving up, yet. Right now they’re using some people’s anger about marriage equality, and specifically the wedding cake stories, as both an excuse and a distraction.

A moment ago I evoked the lyrics to “Those Were the Days,” the song sung by Jean Stapleton and Carroll O’Connor as the opening theme song for All In the Family. It’s a nostalgic song about those mythical good old days. Most of the time, you only heard the first verse of the song. For a few seasons, they recorded a longer version with the second verse, which has a few lines I think we need to remember, because there are still plenty of people longing for all of us to go back with them:

People seemed to be content,
fifty dollars paid the rent,
freaks were in a circus tent.
Those were the days.
Take a little Sunday spin,
go to watch the Dodgers win.
Have yourself a dandy day,
that cost you under a fin.
Hair was short and skirts were long.
Kate Smith really sold a song.
I don’t know just what went wrong,
those were the days.

I shudder to think what these guys will do when more states pass transgender rights laws.

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