Why the Recent Spate of “Religious Freedom” Bills May Be a Good Thing


Anybody who has been paying attention to politics recently has probably heard about the “religious freedom” bills that have been hitting a number of states recently. It’s a little mind boggling that all of them have been making it to state legislatures all at the same time, with similar language, but so far it’s been very difficult to actually track where they are coming from. Usually when bills like this are all proposed simultaneously, there is somebody not only writing the model legislation but willing to claim it. So far it’s been difficult at best to track down the origin.

Regardless, what started in Kansas has grown to a number of other states including Georgia, South Dakota, Tennessee, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Idaho, Alabama, Michigan, Maine, West Virginia, and is being considered in Utah. Most famous has been the recent veto of a bill that passed both houses of the Arizona legislature.

Now, it’s important to note that not all of these are the same. Some are targeted only at students, like the Alabama bill. Some allow for blanket discrimination like the Arizona bill did. Some are targeted someplace in the middle. Some specifically name same-sex couples, others are more broad. However, the basic idea of all of them is the same: if our religion doesn’t like you, we don’t have to deal with you.

Another important point, as many of the links point out, is that many of these bills have been rejected in one way or another. This is a good thing in a way, but not something that we should be comfortable about. In several of those cases, the stated idea is to re-write them in such a way that would be narrower and less likely to offend business interests, so they haven’t gone away quite yet.

“How could any of that be good?” you ask, incredulously.

Well, for starters, there has been one thing that has permeated the entire venture: businesses have no interest in supporting these things. While many progressives, myself included, give corporations a lot of flak for their indifference on a number of issues, on gay rights you see more and more of them actually coming out in support. This is because for many companies, it’s simply impossible to ignore the presence of LGBT people, which is the basic aim of all of these bills. They exist, they spend money, they are a growing population, and they work at these companies. On that same track, though, they can’t resist growing support for LGBT rights, and while stunts like Chik-fil-a Appreciation Day might provide short term gains, there simply isn’t enough right-wing anger to sustain consistent sales. It takes effort to shop some place, but it takes zero effort to not shop there in most cases.

And that is where we should also be very careful about the way that we praise the results of this. Make no mistake, Jan Brewer didn’t suddenly gain a healthy respect for queer people and their rights. The three Arizona legislators who changed their mind and urged a veto didn’t have an epiphany about the universal dignity of human beings after they voted for the bill. Rather, if there is one thing that the religious right loves more than Jesus, it’s their wallets. As the brilliant Jim Wright points out, if these people actually had any courage of their convictions, they would have continued to support the law.

The simple truth is that if these people really believed in the rightness and righteousness of their religion, they would have passed the bill and to hell with the consequences.

Make no mistake whatsoever, Folks, if Arizona republicans could have gotten away with it, if they could have signed this bill into law and only gay people and non-Christians would have been negatively affected, they damned well would have – that was the entire point of SB 1062 in the first place….

Right won out only because these people worship power and money far more than they love their small and hateful God.

They won’t do what’s right, but they can usually be counted on to do what is profitable.

Read the whole thing for a dose of righteous anger.

That all being said, there is another upside to this debate: the religious right is running out of ideas. Alvin McEwen’s indispensable How They See Us: Unmasking the Religious Right’s War on Gay America does an excellent job of tracking the ways that conservatives have attempted to use science and secular arguments to harm the LGBT community over the years, often coming back to the debunked work of Paul Cameron and others of his generation. However, those arguments are quickly losing steam as more and more people are becoming aware of the flaws of them, often based on simple observations of queer people in their lives. Instead, they are left with the far less legally or popularly effective religious arguments that have been hiding behind every Regnerus study and doctored narrative presented so far. This is, pardon the pun, a Hail Mary of epic proportions, and makes court challenges even more difficult to sustain in most cases.

However, as McEwen also points out, it’s important to recognize the shift in strategy and find ways to go on the offensive rather than playing a defensive game against these types of measures.

We simply must be more nuanced and aggressive in how we fight the anti-gay right. We need not wait for them to attack our equality but put them on the defensive for a change. We need stop allowing them to question our ability to love and live in peace. We should be making them explain why, if they are supposed to standing up for traditional morality, do they stoop to methods which would make Satan blush.

How’s this for a start? In a comment on today’s Quickies from Hanoumatoi, they point out, “That’s the worst part about this, what should’ve been a slam dunk veto was a huge issue, and even though Brewer vetoed it, it doesn’t actually get us anywhere, because AZ has no anti-discrimination law protecting LGBT people.” Now that Arizona has been threatened with boycotts for discriminating against its queer citizens, why be satisfied with the vetoing of this bill? Why not demand that Arizona pass active protections for its LGBT citizens? This is not the time to back off, it’s the time to fight harder and not allow some sort of “no harm, no foul” attitude in regards to this. Because if we let it go, it will only come back harder than before.


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  1. I have had the privilege of spending my adult life in 3 states which have legalized gay marriage, 2 of them while I lived there (MA, IA, WA), and protecting equal rights for all is of the upmost importance. We should be happy that this bill was vetoed, and that the law protecting trans* students in CA isn’t going to the ballot, but these wins should encourage us to new heights! Contact your local legislators, city, county, state, what have you, and urge them to pass laws protecting ALL people from discrimination!
    Dan Savage posted today that he was torn by Andrew Sullivan’s call to take a step back, but we should instead reject this. People are being injured and killed by homophobia and transphobia every day, and we have an OBLIGATION to stand up for what we believe in! Especially those of us who are straight cis males (like myself), who have found it so easy to be quiet and passive in the past.

    Kaoru, thank you for this great post!

  2. Someone else suggested, upon reading Andrew Sullivan’s call for us to live and let the bigots live, a reading of “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, and I think that is appropriate. A brief quote that gets to the heart of the issue:

    “I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

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