Friday, February 13, 2015

Arkansas Chooses Wrong Side of History Again: Legislature Passes "Right to Discriminate" Bill

The Republican-controlled Arkansas legislature today passed a bill protecting faith-based discrimination against LGBT citizens of the state — a state that affords no legal protection to those citizens against discrimination in housing, employment, provision of medical services, etc. As Arkansas Times editor Max Brantley says in the video at the head of the posting, though the bill purports to be about protecting people's consciences, what it's really about is protecting discrimination against those who are gay. 

Here's Arkansas Times writer Lindsey Millar commenting* on what Little Rock representative Clarke Tucker told his colleagues as they prepared to pass the gay discrimination bill (GOP governor Asa Hutchinson has announced that he will permit the bill to be enacted as legislation):

Rep. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock, in his first appearance in the well of the House as a freshman legislator, urged a vote against the bill for several reasons: He said the bill violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and he read from a Supreme Court decision that struck down a Colorado law aimed at preventing  laws extending equal rights to gay people. He said the state would pay to defend the bill and pay attorney fees for lawyers who brought suit to strike it down. It is bad for business, he said. Most Fortune 500 businesses have explicit policies that provide protection for LGBT employees. It sends a message that Arkansas doesn't equally value such workers, that it is "out of step with corporate culture." It takes away local control. Finally, he said, "It's fundamentally the wrong thing to do." He said the bill amounted to a "pro-active act of discrimination." He said his grandfathers had taken unpopular stands as school board members in support of school desegregation in Little Rock and Fort Smith. "They did what they did because they thought it was right. In hindsight, we know they were on the right side of history. I know it's unpopular in 2015, but I believe it's the right thing to do."

"It's fundamentally the wrong thing to do." It places Arkansas on the wrong side of history all over again. Our state behaved shamefully in the 1950s and 1960s when the rights of people of color were being debated, and just as we cite the bible now to justify our anti-gay bigotry, in that shameful period of history, we cited the bible right and left to pretend that God made people of light pigmentation to rule those of darker complexion. 

As Mark Silk notes today, commenting on the claim of Alabama's Republican party chairman Bill Armistead that God's word doesn't change and God is going to strike the United States down for permitting same-sex couples to marry, 

Perhaps the best way to understand this anomalous situation is that while God’s word may or may not change, the culture war is always moving on. Over time, evangelical religion has taken stands against dancing, and violating the Sabbath, and drinking, and gambling, and miscegenation, and of course divorce, and probably some other things I don’t know about but which could be proof-texted by any self-respecting Baptist preacher, bless his heart. 

And as he concludes,

And verily, the Alabama Republican Party will learn to live with it. And will find something else that’s abhorrent to God to declare war upon.  

Mark is right: the culture war issue du jour will eventually shift, probably to vilification of the Islamic community and immigrants, and some bible-based reason for that vilification will then be manufactured for the new phase of the culture war. But the damage states like Alabama and Arkansas did to themselves during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and the 1960s, and the damage they're doing to themselves all over again as the civil rights of gay citizens of the U.S. begin to be recognized, won't easily be undone.

Creative, talented, educated young people will avoid these states like the plague, leaving them mired in the mess they make for themselves by standing on the wrong side of history — for bible-based bigotry and discrimination and against human rights. Mired in intractable poverty that can't be overcome because the commitment to education and diversity (therefore to talent) is exceptionally weak in communities that choose ignorance and prejudice instead. Young folks with something to offer don't want to choose places like that in which to build their lives and raise their families.

Nor should they.

*From the first link at the top of the posting.

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