The progressive left and the moderate middle are certainly pleased with themselves this week. After days of demonstrations and threats of boycotts, Arizona Republican governor Jan Brewer vetoed a two-page, vaguely and awkwardly worded bill (SB 1062) which would have enabled people and businesses to deny service to others on the basis of an exercise of their religion. (Would someone please explain to me why an exercise of religion means treating people badly?)
Most believed that SB 1062 would apply only to members of the LGBT community because other civil rights laws forbid denial of service to others on the basis of race, gender, religion, and nationality. I am less sanguine. Aside from the problem of double-counting (e.g., someone black and gay), I suspect that, had the law countenanced this “exercise-of-religion” basis for denial of service, it would have led to challenges to those civil rights laws on the same basis. Litigation for one, litigation for all—forever and ever.
Most are also gratified that many American corporations and other economic organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and the Super Bowl committee spoke in opposition to this proposed law and probably brought about its veto. They warned about the economic consequences of adverse reactions to SB 1062 if it had been signed into law, and they prevailed. But it is fair to wonder what position the business community would have taken if discrimination promised to show a profit.
Along the way, some commentators disgraced themselves, among them, Andrew Sullivan, a gay Catholic, increasingly conservative, commentator for several decades. His position on this issue was straight out of the Barry Goldwater playbook opposing the Civil Rights Act on 1964. The Senator from Arizona—is there something in Arizona’s drinking water to account for its craziness?—proclaimed that a civil rights law can not change peoples’ hearts. He was absolutely right and totally irrelevant; the issue is not deeply felt convictions, but public conduct. Laws do not apply to beliefs or creeds, but to behavior in the public sphere, where business takes place. So what did Sullivan say? Just what Goldwater had said: protests and threats to boycott cannot change peoples’ hearts—right and irrelevant again—and were an unsatisfactory approach to SB 1062.
Throughout the hullabaloo, a few voices here and there spoke up about equality under the law, but they were drowned out by this hue-and-cry of economic harm to Arizona. Still, the term came into play far less than I had thought it would, even though it is at the start and the center of American political thought. We give so much lip-service to those famous words from the Declaration of Independence—you know the ones: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness”—that we often skip over them at crucial times as if they are “needless to say.” I shall return to these words at another time; for now, I want to move on to the less famous words which immediately follow them. I want to provide a much–needed lesson for the likes of Goldwater, Sullivan, and most of today’s Republicans and Tea Partiers, who populate and pollute the Right and who have overlooked them.
Ready? Here goes: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Not a word about changing hearts or even minds. In their belief in the reasonableness of civil society, the Founding Fathers further believed that government was the guarantor of these rights, not guns in the hands of the country’s citizens.
A moment’s reflection indicates that government controls the public square for the good of all and that all those governed have a means to express or withhold their consent. So the efforts of today’s Republicans and Tea Partiers to discriminate on the basis of gender orientation are efforts to divide the people and deny some of them their full rights as citizens. The efforts of Republican- and Tea-Party-controlled state legislatures to impede the votes of the young, the old, the working middle class, and blacks and other minorities are further efforts to divide the people and deny them the opportunity to express or withhold their consent. Indeed, Republicans and Tea Partiers are silent about, and are not committed to, ensuring civil and electoral rights, and eliminating obstacles to those rights; instead, they are dedicated to undermining and destroying those rights for those whom they have segregated by law and administrative fiat.
The bottom line: Allegiance to equality is what distinguishes Real Americans from bigoted pretenders who profess to be patriots and to pledge their allegiance to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Hypocrites all: today’s Republicans and Tea Partiers are un-American in their basic hostility to equality, civil government of all the people, and the democratic processes which enable their representation.