Perhaps it is time to let the southern states secede from the United States of America, as they tried to do in 1860-61. Recently the southern states appear to be determined to destroy the values on which this nation was founded, the notion that “All men are created equal”.
On Wednesday, March 23rd in North Carolina, the legislature convened a special session. A bill was introduced, it passed through both the House and Senate (both Republican controlled) and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed it into law. All inside of 12 hours. This may be a legislative record, but not all records are things of beauty. Just like that, North Carolina became the state with the most hostile laws against LGBT people in the country. The rushed special session was ingeniously planned to avoid all of the various resistance that has held back similar bills from being considered in previous years. For example, the bill’s language was only made public minutes before it was considered, and there was only a total of 30 minutes of public comment, meaning there was basically no opportunity for public input. Businesses had no opportunity to chime in about the economic impact on the state.
The bill came a month after the city of Charlotte passed a measure protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from being discriminated against by businesses. The state law passed 10 days ago effectively blocks local governments from passing anti-discrimination rules to grant protections to gay and transgender people. Though the state bill seems to have been triggered by the question of what, if any, public restrooms transgender people should be allowed to use (a subject that I choose not to discuss at this time), the language has far broader implications for the LGBT community, such as the right to equal employment opportunities and being able to be expect service in public restaurants, etc.
In the ten days since the bill was signed into law, there has been a tremendous backlash. Some 100 national companies have signed a letter objecting to the law. They join the several businesses that had already spoken out against it in the days immediately after it passed. Likewise, several cities and states and have banned all government-funded travel to the state of North Carolina. On Friday, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) added D.C. to a growing list, which includes San Francisco, New York City, Seattle, and Portland, as well as the states of New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and Washington. Braeburn Pharmaceuticals was planning to build a $20 million manufacturing and research facility in Durham County, but it announced this week that it is “reevaluating our options based on the recent, unjust legislation.” Additionally, a federal lawsuit was filed against Governor McCrory and other state officials … the first of many, unless I miss my guess. Governor McCrory and his cronies are standing firm for the time being, but one must wonder how long that will last once the economy begins to feel the pinch of lost jobs and revenue.
A similar bill was being considered in Georgia, though Georgia governor Nathan Deal announced on Monday that he intends to veto the bill, saying “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part of for all of our lives.”. If passed, it would have: (1) prevented people from having to perform or attend same-sex marriages (note that nobody is forced to do either anyway) (2) permitted faith-based groups like churches and religious schools to refuse service and employment to individuals if serving said people violated the group’s religious beliefs and (3) allowed those same organizations to deny employment to individuals “whose religious beliefs or practices or lack of either are not in accord with the faith-based organization’s sincerely held religious belief.” For Georgia, the economic impact would have been catastrophic. Consider this: Disney, Marvel, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and Apple have all opposed the bill. Disney & Marvel have used Georgia as a venue for their films in recent years. They stated in no uncertain terms that they would “take [their] business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law.” This alone could have had a negative economic impact of some $6 billion annually. Additionally, the NFL indicated that they will not consider Falcons Stadium, set to open in 2017 and in contention to host the Super Bowl in 2019 or 2020, as a site for its biggest game of the year. A trio of other Atlanta teams — the Braves, Falcons, and Hawks —opposed the bill as well. Predictably, there has been praise for Deal from the LGBT community and criticism from religious leaders. There was an attempt by Georgia State Senator Mike Crane to override the veto, but it fell short of the requisite 2/3 majority in both chambers.
Then there is Mississippi. I have saved the worst for last. The bill in Mississippi, titled the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act”, goes much further than simple approval of discrimination against the LGBT community. It would, in essence, allow for discrimination against any person who engages in premarital sex. In short, it gives business owners and religious organizations wide berth in discriminating based on the three tenets of the bill: “(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.” I could write an entire post on this one, which goes beyond bigoted, beyond despicable … in fact, I cannot find words to express my thoughts about this bill. However I will wait and see what happens when it reaches Governor Phil Bryant’s desk next week. I hope he is human or at least savvy enough to veto the bill, though early indicators are that he will sign it. If you can stomach it, you can read the text of the bill here.
These bills/laws are called “religious freedom” acts. They would be more accurately called “sanctioned bigotry” acts. In reality, they are laws that give the right to discriminate. These laws give anyone and everyone the right to discriminate without being punished under the law. Discrimination is contrary to the values of this nation. When the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1787, slavery was still legal. African-Americans were considered property. We came a long way in realizing that to judge any person based on anything other than their behaviour is wrong. Are we doomed to backpedal? Are certain religious groups so damn sure that their way is the only right way, that they are willing to deny human rights to people who are different in some way? Make no mistake … if these laws are allowed to pass and to stand, we are headed back down the road toward slavery. The Constitution calls for protection of religious freedom, but it also calls for separation of church and state. With these laws, states are making laws that are contrary to the secularism mandated to governments. It is neither the responsibility nor the right of the state to make any law discriminating against an entire group of people in favor of the choices of a handful of religions. There is not a single state in the deep south, from Texas to North Carolina that has any state laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment practices. Not a single one. The states in grey on the map below are those that have no anti-discriminatory employment laws for LGBT:
Just as the south held on tightly to slavery, just as the south fought bitterly to keep schools, public venues and transportation segregated for more than half of the 20th century, the trend of bigotry and racism continues even now, well into the 21st century. Ultimately, I suspect each of these laws will come under the scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court and will be struck down. Meanwhile, an estimated 3.5% of the adult population in the southern states will be discriminated against in the workforce, in public venues such as restaurants, and in such as homeless shelters and daycare facilities and clinics. I realize this is a long post, but I think this is important and if we don’t speak up, who will? If not now, then when?
As always, I welcome your thoughts and opinions on this topic!