Friday, March 27, 2015

Yesterday, Indiana, Today, Arkansas: Recent Commentary on Anti-Gay "Religious Freedom" Legislation in U.S.

Yesterday, Indiana, today, Arkansas: yesterday, Governor Pence of Indiana signed into law that state's new anti-gay "religious freedom" legislation; today, similar legislation was voted through the Arkansas senate by a wide majority of members. Some commentary that has caught my eye in the past two days:

At Huffington Post, Matt Baume overturns an argument beloved by Catholic "liberals" who love to maintain that the quest for rights for people of color is qualitatively different from the quest for rights for gay folks, and to deny that the very same bogus "religious freedom" arguments have been used to attack the rights of both groups: Baume observes,

You don't have to look far in American history to find cases of discrimination being defended as "religious freedom." Supporters of slavery, segregation, and interracial marriage bans all invoked Biblical defenses.

David Koon at Arkansas Times notes that the message these anti-gay "religious freedom" laws are designed to give LGBT citizens is the same message burning crosses once gave black citizens:

Many of our Republican legislators seem perfectly willing to pummel their own state on the national stage if it serves their personal prejudices and gets their names in the headlines. In the process, they're telling inclusive corporations and progressive Americans, gay and straight, to stay far away from Arkansas, the land of beautiful scenery and ugly views. For the LGBT folks who already live here, meanwhile, these pieces of legislation serve as a warning that's about as subtle as a burning cross: Your kind is not welcome. You may have been born and raised here, but we are going to make sure that you feel like a pariah. 

Also at Arkansas Times, David Koon cites state senator Linda Chesterfield, an African-American member of our legislature, on what "religious freedom" laws targeting vulnerable minority groups have always meant to us in the South: 

Having grown up in the South all of my life, I know that religious freedom has meant that slavery was okay. It has meant that Jim Crow was okay. It has meant that it was okay to keep people from achieving that which they deserved. It's impossible for me, having suffered from that religious freedom in a negative way, to fail to say that we are better than this.

And noted African-American civil rights leader Julian Bond tells Governor Hutchinson of Arkansas the following about Arkansas's anti-gay "religious liberty" legislation, according to Lindsay Millar of Arkansas Times

H.B. 1228 in Arkansas opens the door to a hateful past that some had thought this country had left behind. This legislation cloaks discrimination in the guise of religion — and it will mark people of color, LGBT Arkansans, religious minorities and women as second class citizens. Governor Hutchinson has a duty and a moral obligation to veto this legislation or the ghosts of the past will haunt his legacy.

For New Civil Rights Movement, David Badash offers a string of tweets that African-American performer Audra McDonald sent Governor Pence when he signed Indiana's anti-gay "religious freedom" bill into law: 

At Forbes, Ben Kepes draws a parallel between bills targeting vulnerable minority groups and what happened to his grandparents in the Nazi period (as many Christians stood by in total silence):

Hate Jews? In Indiana, you don’t have to serve them. Feel uncomfortable about homosexuality? Indiana is the place for you, where you can bury your head and pretend it doesn’t exist. 
As the son of parents who survived the Holocaust (and the grandson of some who didn’t) this feels very much like a prelude to another Kristallnacht.

At Salon and Alternet, Alex Henderson notes the quite specific Southern bible-belt roots of the anti-gay fervor now burning through the Republican party and its constituents:

Instead of moving more to the center, the Republican Party and the Tea Party have resolved to "rally the base" by doubling down on their insanity, especially in the Deep South and Texas, where it is much easier to push a far-right agenda than it is in more centrist or liberal-leaning parts of the United States. And in a mid-term election year like 2014, railing against their usual targets—African Americans, gays, immigrants, atheists, women seeking abortions and pretty much anyone else who isn’t a white male Christian fundamentalist over 50—is an all-too-familiar GOP get-out-the-vote strategy for the Bible Belt.

For Huffington Post, Richard Brodsky sketches an unflattering picture of one of the two major political parties in the U.S. totally out of control, totally consumed with anger that Things Are Changing:

What seems to have liberated Republicans from the kind of internal restraint any party needs to survive is a deep-seated anger -- anger at Obama; anger at a new world where people of color, sexual and gender minorities, people of other religions and women are more prominent and active than before; anger at the erosion of values and traditions once thought inviolable. 
Anger is not a governing principle. There is plenty to criticize in the way society has evolved, and alternatives need to be aired. But Republicans as the party of war and discrimination? It's different and dangerous. 

For his Politics blog at Esquire, Charles Pierce mocks Governor Pence's inane contention that Indiana needed its anti-gay "religious freedom" law because "people feel" their religious beliefs should entitle them to discriminate:

We should allow discrimination based on what "many people" feel. Lovely. Pence also courageously signed the law in a "private" ceremony, and then courageously refused to say whether or not gay and lesbian citizens were a protected class, under which they would be the beneficiaries of the anti-discrimination statutes that would otherwise exclude them. This was particularly courageous because, if the answer is yes, then the law Pence signed is unconstitutional on its face, and if the answer is no, then he might have to explain why,and that wouldn't play well nationally, would it?

At Maddow Blog, Steve Benen also notes Pence's craven private signing ceremony — and who was there to witness it: 

The governor did not allow the media to witness the bill signing – Pence completed the process behind closed doors – though he did publish a photo from the event on Twitter. It appears the governor was surrounded by a group of religious leaders.

Some people are, of course, speaking out, and deserve much credit for doing so. They include Yelp CEO Jerry Stoppelman, who encourages businesses to refuse to do business in places that pass laws targeting minority groups; George Takei, who calls for businesses and conferences to withdraw support from Indiana as it targets LGBT citizens; Marc Benioff, whose Salesforce organization has announced it will reduce its investment in Indiana after the state passed its anti-gay "religious freedom" bill (see the Ben Kepes Forbes article above for Benioff's statement).

And as all of this happens, throwing oil into the flames to make them burn brighter is, of course, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who, as David Gibson has just noted for Religious News Service, has just said* the following to the right-wing media outlet LifeSiteNews:

Now the American churchman has spoken out again, telling an interviewer that gay couples and divorced and remarried Catholics who are trying to live good and faithful lives are still like "the person who murders someone and yet is kind to other people."

So much for that idea of the church as a field hospital demonstrating mercy by binding up the wounds of hurting human beings. Isn't it interesting that one of the only Catholic voices we hear right now, as LGBT citizens in the U.S. reel from one legislative blow after another from the GOP legislatures and governors whom 60% of white Catholics in the U.S. helped put into office last fall, is the voice of Cardinal Burke?!

We won't hear, of course, from the U.S. Catholic bishops, who have worked hard to set all of this into motion. We won't hear of the church as a field hospital mercifully binding up the deep wounds they've inflicted, that is to say. Not when they have wanted to inflict those wounds . . . .

*A slight correction: the LifeSiteNews article notes that Burke made these remarks to the media outlet in January. It's LifeSiteNews that has decided to publish Burke's statement right now. And isn't their timing interesting? 

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