As most Hoosiers know, HJR3 is the ill-fated constitutional amendment designed to tie a bow around Indiana’s law that makes gay marriage illegal. Because the legislature approved an edited version of the bill earlier this month, HJR3 is back on the shelf until at least 2016 (putting Indiana in the “Lifetime Achievement Award” category for pushing anti-gay legislation).
But that doesn’t mean the 14th Amendment – the one that speaks to equal protection for all U.S. citizens – is in the clear. Just ask the folks in Arizona.
In a breathtaking move, the Arizona legislature last week approved a new law that allows any private business, based upon religious beliefs, to deny services (it’s a poorly-kept secret that gay and lesbian citizens are the target of this law). So, while a small handful of bakers and wedding planners that don’t want to take on gay weddings are the beneficiaries of this decision, it’s certainly conceivable that meals could be refused in restaurants — or, perhaps, even selling a handful of nails at the local hardware store. Deeply held religious beliefs aren’t proprietary to the wedding business, right?
Where do we begin?
First and foremost, let’s be clear: it’s unlikely that more than a small minority of Arizona residents believe this is much of a good idea. Most of them are probably embarrassed beyond belief. And it’s easy to believe the vast majority of Arizona citizens won’t trigger the law in their own businesses. Yet, the state legislature has chosen to take Arizona back a few decades for the sake of a vocal few.
To anyone who was alive in the 1950s: does any of this sound familiar?
It certainly reeks of Jim Crow laws, the racially charged segregation statutes that, until 1965, required African Americans to use separate restaurants, hotels, drinking fountains, and restrooms in the southern U.S. states.
But while most people believe this law is targeted at gay and lesbian residents (for the explicit purpose of gaining political points before a court overturns the wrong-headed decision) let’s set that aside for a moment. If a business owner can reject serving a customer because of deeply held religious beliefs, then why couldn’t a Christian business owner make the same call when a Jewish customer enters a restaurant? Or an atheist? What about the director of a local Planned Parenthood facility? Does an overweight chap pay for his sin of indulgence by being refused plumbing services?
Of course, it can be hard to separate believers from non-believers. Same can be said for those who support and protest a woman’s right to choose. But the same can be said for gay couples. That’s the problem with discrimination. Sometimes, it’s really hard to tell who’s who.