Wednesday, February 26, 2014

As Gay-Discrimination Bill Appears to Falter in Arizona, 15 Other States Consider Similar Legislation: Where's It Coming From?

Though Republican governor Jan Brewer of Arizona appears, according to some reports, poised to veto the gay-discrimination bill recently passed by her state's Republican-controlled legislature,* as Steve Benen points out today for the Maddow Blog, there's the following surprising thing to consider: 

But while we wait, perhaps the most surprising aspect of this fight is that other conservative state policymakers elsewhere are watching the divisive fiasco unfold and they’re apparently thinking to themselves, "Let’s bring that ugliness here!"

Though a number of Arizona legislators who voted for the gay-discrimination bill are now advising Brewer to veto it, though Fox News is now questioning the feasibility of this legislation whereas Fox had been promoting it, and though the business community in Arizona has lined up against the legislation, in 15 states--nearly a third of the country, as Steve Benen points out--Republican lawmakers have proposed similar legislation. As he asks,

What kind of elected official sees a contentious argument over a problem that doesn’t exist and chooses to deliberately impose that fight on his or her state?

The answer to that question appears obviously to be: Republican lawmakers rather than Democratic ones. It's Republicans in state after state who are pushing for legislation that would extend and amplify a "right" to discriminate against gay citizens even in states like Arizona where there's already such a "right," and where same-sex marriage is not even legal. 

One can only assume that Republican legislators are pushing for this legislation across the U.S. because they think that doing so is a winning proposition as the 2014 election process gets underway. As Rachel Maddow notes in the video at the head of the posting, up until very recently, campaigning against the threat of gay people worked for the Republican party. It enabled the GOP to get out the vote, and, in particular, the faithful vote, the voters of the hard religious right who, in some swing states, persistently make up the margins that the Republican party needs to win federal and state seats.

Rachel states,

For Republicans, campaigning against gay rights, campaigning against the threat of gay people having equal rights, it was something that united basically all Republicans. It excited parts of the Republican base and made them turn out to vote even if they might not otherwise.

Rachel notes that phony "religious-freedom" gay-discriminaton bills are now, in 2014, the "trendy new right-wing bill all around the country." Suddenly, they're everywhere, and they're appearing at "lightning-speed" across the nation. 

Not only that: these bills are cookie-cutter bills. They essentially say the same thing from state to state, as if they're being crafted by the same heads. As if they're issuing from the same mouths.

Rachel asks Dana Liebelson of Mother Jones why these gay-discrimination bills appear to be essentially the same from state to state, and why they appear to be popping up everywhere simultaneously. Liebelson's response: if you dig into the situation, you find that certain "national conservative groups" are promoting the bills, and, in many cases, actually writing them.

As Michelangelo Signorile notes, look at Arizona and Kansas, and then turn your eyes to Uganda, Nigeria, and Russia, and the same names keep popping up: the same people keep promoting legislation to target and attack gay folks in all of these places. Signorile names names: Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, who is livid that Arizona's law is under attack; Scott Lively, who has taken credit for Russia's draconian anti-gay laws and who set the ball rolling for the Ugandan legislation in a 2009 speech in that nation; Matt Barber and Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel/Liberty University, who have praised the Nigerian and Ugandan laws; Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, who lobbied for Russia's draconian legislation before a committee of the Duma; and Brian Fischer of the American Family Association, who wants homosexuality re-criminalized in the U.S., and who says that gay people should be treated like dangerous drug addicts.

As I noted last week, I'd also add to the list of those promoting the gay-discrimination legislation throughout the U.S. right now, who are advising Republican legislators as they craft it, George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the Catholic conferences of many states in which such legislation is under consideration. As Sarah Posner has indicated, these bills have the strong support of both Weigel's organization and of various state Catholic conferences.

And their language about religious freedom--the claim that the religious freedom of believers is now under attack in the U.S., as same-sex couples are permitted the right of civil marriage in some states--is drawn almost word for word from the religious-freedom playbook of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its "Fortnight for Freedom" campaign, which calls on the faithful to engage in public acts of demonstration against the inclusion of contraceptive coverage in the Affordable Care Act, and against marriage equality. The USCCB has just filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, supporting the "right" of private employers like Hobby Lobby to claim religious exemptions as they withhold contraceptive coverage from employees on grounds of conscience.

What remains to be seen, as Rachel Maddow points out, is whether the cynical targeting of gay people will continue to be a winning proposition for the Republican party in the 2014 elections and in future elections, as younger Americans increasingly reject anti-gay discrimination as irreconcilable with their core values. What remains to be seen is whether the Republican party is being wise in the 2014 election cycle to pay such strong attention to the kinds of folks named by Signorile, and the ones I've added to his list of those advising the GOP to pull out the gay-bashing stops all over again in 2014.

*But see Brewer's denial that she intends to veto.

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