A debate over a proposed Arizona law that would exempt individuals and legal entities from having to cater to gay customers exploded Tuesday night on CNN when an opponent of the measure accused former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli of being a “homophobe.”
But the thing is, the word “homosexual” (or any synonym or related term) does not appear in the text of the bill. The bill adds a few words to the definition of “Exercise of religion”, and expands “Person” to include people, clubs, and companies (think Chic-Fil-A or Hobby Lobby); not just churches and congregations. I’m no lawyers, but it looks to me as though the bits that come after that make it harder to pass laws that someone might claim infringe on their religious rights, and easier to sue the government.
Now, I have no doubt that this bill, if it passes, will be used to make gays’ lives miserable. But I also don’t see that at its primary thrust.
Rather, this is a bill that enshrines religious privilege. It’s a bill that says “I’m used to being on top. I’m used to being able to use “it’s my religion” as an excuse for anything I do, and I don’t like it when people challenge that.” It’s a reaction to people starting to treat religion with the respect it deserves, rather than the unearned levels of respect it has enjoyed in the past.
Maybe this was primarily intended as a gay-bashing bill. Maybe the authors realized that in 2014, you can’t just introduce a bill saying “It’s okay to hate on them queers”, and felt the need to disguse that message in some more palatable rationale. But it’s still significant that the more-palatable rationale is religion. “We’re just standing up for freedom of religion. Who would say anything against that?” Well, people who are harmed by your religion, for one. People who sympathize with people harmed by your religion, for another.
Watch Anderson Cooper’s interview with Arizona senator Al Melvin:
As Cooper’s examples illustrate, this bill would allow Arizonans to be dicks to other people in all sorts of ways, not just homophobic ones. And Melvin’s justification is that hey, it’s religion, so it needs to be coddled.
Update: The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty has expressed some objections to a similar bill in Georgia. I have no idea what the group is or what they stand for, but I like the way they put it:
While religious liberty is one of our most precious rights, it is not an automatic trump card.