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The Godly Oppressors

Amidst the troubling and problematic trends in recent years has been the tendency of Christian conservatives to self-righteously declare themselves the victims and then support insanely discriminatory laws targeting gay people.

Witness, Kansas’ unfortunate drive to implement Jim Crow:

To put this simply, the Kansas House has just endorsed a comprehensive system of anti-gay discrimination. If it becomes law—which isn’t unlikely, given Republican control of the statehouse and governorship—it will yield a segregated world for gays and their allies, as they are forced to use businesses and other services that aren’t hostile to them.

When asked about the bill, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback toldThe Topeka Capital-Journal that “Americans have constitutional rights, among them the right to exercise their religious beliefs and the right for every human life to be treated with respect and dignity.” The question is whether he thinks this applies to gays.

Looking at this bill, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call it a close cousin—if not sibling—of Jim Crow (natch, for black gays and lesbians in the state, there’s little difference). Like its Southern predecessors, this proposal is meant to isolate and stigmatize a despised minority, under of the guise of some higher priority (“religious liberty”).

Scott Lemieux at The American Prospect has this to say about it:

“The sovereign,” as John Paul Stevens observed, “must govern impartially.” This bill is a direct shot at this basic principle of democratic governance. It is bad enough to permit private businesses to discriminate; to allow public officials to discriminate is even worse. As the Daily Beast‘s Jamelle Bouie puts it, “[a]mbulances can refuse to come to the home of a gay couple, park managers can deny them entry, state hospitals can turn them away, and public welfare agencies can decline to work with them.” Allowing state officials to deny services to same-sex couples is about as stark a designation of second-class citizenship as one can imagine short of bringing back George Wallace to deny gays and lesbians access to the University of Kansas.[snip]

The pretext for this rollback of civil rights is the protection of religious freedom. But the Kansas law makes clear how hollow and dangerous such arguments are. It’s worth noting here that we’re talking about secular businesses and state officials. Acting as individuals, people are free for religious (or any other reason) not to associate with same-sex couples or support same-sex marriage. But—whether motivated by religious belief or not—homophobic beliefs cannot trump the rights of people to use public accommodations on equal terms. These arguments were bad when they were used to oppose civil-rights legislation to protect African-Americans and women, and they’re no better in this context. For state officials to be permitted to deny services to citizens based on private religious beliefs is simply unconscionable.

Ed Kilgore at Washington Monthly:

You don’t have to completely buy the Jim Crow analogy to understand that this legislation—a logical extension from the claims made for blanket exemptions for religious-based objections to laws in the Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby case on which the Supreme Court will hear arguments next month—is designed to carve out a separatist zone of immunity for people who are willing to say their hostility to homosexuality or to same-sex marriage is religiously motivated.  The fact that even public employees would share this immunity shows that it isn’t designed to protect a tiny group of wedding planners or cake-bakers from the horror of being expected to peddle their services to same-sex couples—the hypothetical on which much of the “religious liberty” argument is being pegged—but to sanction discrimination generally.

The bottom line – despite all the hue and cry about religious freedom – is that these laws exist for the sole purpose of humiliating, shaming, harming, and stigmatizing gay and lesbian persons.  The people supporting and passing them are emotional and moral infants, squawling at a world that terrifies them.

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