The state legislature of Arkansas, one of some twenty states currently considering passing
religious freedom legalized discrimination bills, has petulantly decided to ignore the national fury being directed at Indiana and pass its own version of the bill. The legal director at Human Rights Campaign has stated that the bills are virtually identical and that it would “place LGBT people, people of color, religious minorities, women and many more people at risk of discrimination.”
It would appear that the Republicans of the Midwest are willing to sacrifice their state’s economic well-being and the constitutional freedoms of their citizens in an effort to escalate the culture war over the rights of gay Americans. This showdown has been slowly building ever since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Christian crafts story, Hobby Lobby, granting them the right to deny their employees access to contraceptives on their health plans because it violated their “religious beliefs”. With that victory, Republicans knew they had found a loophole to exploit.
At the fundamental core of the issue is a push-back by Christians, threatened by America’s rapidly changing demographics and the spread of cosmopolitan tolerance from urban centers. As the White House remarked earlier today, the laws are “not fair” or consistent with American values of equality and freedom. The Republican Party, the Midwest, and the rest of intolerant America need to accept the fact that in 2015, the United States is a multi-cultural and multi-gendered society, and no amount of bigoted laws or disgruntled appeals to fantasies of tradition will change that. As Chris Cuomo of CNN’s New Day challenged the Family Research Council’s Peter Spriggs, “why do so many Christians these days believe that the exercise of their faith requires the exclusion and judgement of others?” What sort of burden do the actions and choices of others have on their own personal faith, their own relationship with God?
Hopefully the growing backlash from business leaders will be more effective than the protests of millions at dissuading the Governor of Arkansas from signing this bill; after all, Republicans listen to dollars more than they do to facts or reason. The CEOs of Gap and Levi Strauss have joined a host of others, from Apple to Yelp to Arkansas’ biggest employer, Wal-Mart, which is not exactly a bastion of liberal principles itself. If Governor Hutchinson is a man of any common sense at all, he will refuse to sign this bill after watching Indiana lose several hundred million dollars in business, gather travel boycotts from four different states, and weather a relentless assault of questioning and criticism from the media. If not, he can count on the support from the Republican presidential hopefuls, who are falling over each other in their desperate attempts to prove just how conservative they are, but can count on joining Indiana in the public doghouse. Mr. Hutchinson would do better to take a leaf from Georgia’s book, who quickly backed away from passing their own discrimination bill after seeing the anger with which the nation reacted to Indiana.
These bills are not the first and certainly not the last battles fought on this issue, but progressives and gay Americans across the nation can take heart from the energy and passion with which (most of) the public reacted to the attempts of the Republican Party to institutionalize discrimination in direct violation of the constitutional rights that protect all Americans, no matter who they may be.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.