Arizona bill sponsor, supporters reverse course; Update: NBC says Brewer likely to veto

posted at 10:41 am on February 25, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Thanks to the attempt to force same-sex marriage into the civil-rights paradigm, businesses in the wedding industry are increasingly faced with a choice between their personal religious beliefs and public-accommodation laws that could force them out of their livelihoods. Arizona’s legislature tried amending the state’s protection of religious belief, but the effort may end up backfiring. With Governor Jan Brewer contemplating whether to sign or veto the bill, a number of Republicans now want the latter — including one of the original sponsors of the legislation:

The chorus of opposition has grown each day, and on Monday, three state senators who voted in favor of the bill changed course and said they oppose it. U.S. Sen. John McCain asked Brewer to veto the measure, as did Apple Inc. and the CEO of American Airlines Group Inc.

State Sens. Bob Worsley, Adam Driggs and Steve Pierce sent their letter urging a veto just days after they joined the entire 17-member Senate GOP caucus in voting for the bill.

“I think laws are (already) on the books that we need, and have now seen the ramifications of my vote,” Worsley told The Associated Press. “I feel very bad, and it was a mistake.”

With the three GOP senators joining all 13 Senate Democrats in opposition, there would be enough votes to defeat the measure in a re-vote. But too much time has passed to allow for reconsideration, and the bill was sent to Brewer in a routine transmittal Monday that was accompanied by “boos” from Senate Democrats.

Worsely’s name is on the bill as a sponsor. Both US Senators from the state, Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake, want a veto. So does the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, which nominally represents the business interests this bill is supposed to support, because of the fear that the legislation will result in broad discrimination not just against participation in same-sex weddings but gays and lesbians in all businesses — and result in a backlash against the state’s tourism industry. At the same time, though, Georgia’s legislature is now considering a similar bill.

In essence, what we have is a legislative sledgehammer coming in response to the abuse of another legislative sledgehammer, thanks to the redefinition of “tolerance” to “forced acceptance and participation.” In my column for The Week today, I prescribe a lot more old-school tolerance and a healthy respect for personal choice as the antidote:

Most people, including faithful Christians, would and should object to refusing service to gays and lesbians simply on the basis of their orientation and lifestyle. But there is a difference between baking a birthday cake and baking a wedding cake, or photographing a birthday party and a wedding. The latter involves participation in an event that very clearly cuts across the religious beliefs of a great number of Americans, and hardly seems unreasonable for a demurral on that basis. …

The passage of the bill has stoked hyperbolic and amusing commentary on all sides, including debates over whether Jesus would have baked a cake for a gay person. All of this misses the point by a mile, which is the need for tolerance. The religious beliefs of these vendors can and should be assumed to be sincerely held, and under the law the government is required to assume that about religious beliefs. Wedding cakes and photographers are not exactly scarce commodities, nor are they an overriding state interest in the same sense that housing might be in discrimination claims. Both sides have used the legal and legislative systems like sledgehammers, and states have been too eager to impose forced participation rather than foster tolerance and let adults figure out their options.

Tolerance does not mean acceptance or participation. It means allowing people to make their own choices about what they choose to do, and to respect the ability of their fellow citizens to do the same as long as it does no injury to them. What this contretemps shows is that America is getting a lot more intolerant the more “tolerant” we become.

Matt Lewis is on the same page at The Daily Caller:

Opponents of these bills score points when they argue that florists and bakers aren’t exactly granting their imprimatur when they make a cake or put together a flower arrangement for a gay wedding. Additionally, they are correct in assuming that most Christians, whether they agree with same-sex marriage, or not, would still bake the cake. In fact, this could be seen as an example of Christian love.

But this is another example of how this schism cannot be easily brushed aside like so many wedding cake crumbs. In recent years, libertarian-leaning conservatives have largely sided with the gay rights argument. Proud members of the “leave us alone” coalition were apt to side with a group of people who just wanted to be left alone to love the person they love (and what happens in the bedroom is nobody’s business).

At some point, however, “leave us alone” became “bake us a cake. Or else!”

And that’s a very different thing, altogether.

I’m going to avoid getting into a theological debate over the issue of participating in same-sex weddings, because it’s an unresolvable topic. Some Christians might see it as Christian love, while others who read Corinthians might see a parallel to Paul’s ruling on eating meat sacrificed to idols, or even Jesus’ forgiveness of the adulterer with the proviso to “sin no more.” The point is that Christians and those of other religions on that spectrum of belief hold those beliefs sincerely, and that should be enough to allow them to choose when and whether to participate in such events. The right of religious expression takes precedence over the state interest in forcing bakers to produce cakes for same-sex weddings, or photographers to attend them.

David Harsanyi argues that this is why social conservatives should embrace libertarianism:

Should social conservatives “commit themselves” to a political philosophy that not only strives for gay equality, but one that seeks to impel others to participate in these new norms despite religious objections? Should they commit to a philosophy that impels them to fund contraception coverage and abortions — either through direct funding or fungible dollars? A philosophy that continues to force them to send their kids to crappy public educational systems that often undermine their faith-based beliefs? A philosophy that attacks parents who seek alternative means of education, like homeschooling? Or should they be more interested in wedding themselves to a political philosophy that downgrades the importance of politics in everyday life and  allows citizens to structure their communities without interference?

The growing state, after all, not the atheist, is religion’s biggest rival. And, intentionally or not, government is crowding out parts of community life that have traditionally been taken care of by civil society. It’s draining resources once used by communities to implement services and take care of their own. And even more destructive, perhaps, is that government is becoming a source of moral authority for so many.

Admittedly, it seems counterintuitive to suggest that social conservatives embrace a laissez-faire political philosophy.  And I’m definitely not Pollyannaish about my fellow human beings. Paul is right to advocate for sentencing reform and a more judicious foreign policy, but he’s also right when he says that libertarianism doesn’t mean “do whatever you want. There is a role for government, there’s a role for family, there’s a role for marriage, there’s a role for the protection of life.” (Abortion is a debate about when life is worth protecting. Despite the misconception by many in the media, there is no single libertarian position.) As is often pointed out, Adam Smith wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments before he wrote Wealth of Nations. One does well with the other. There is no conflict between political freedom and faith.

Leave us alone, indeed.

Update: NBC now reports that Brewer is likely to veto the bill:

She vetoed a similar bill earlier, so this would not be a surprise, especially with Republicans switching sides now.

Update: I like this take from my very good friend Elizabeth “The Anchoress” Scalia:

Writing in USA Today, last week, Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers compared what some call the “anti-gay marriage” bills to “homosexual Jim Crow laws.” That may be a rhetorical bridge too far. More worth consideration is her claim that “Whether Christians have the legal right to discriminate should be a moot point because Christianity doesn’t prohibit serving a gay couple getting married. Jesus calls his followers to be servants to all. Nor does the Bible call service to another an affirmation.”

Well, yes and no. While Jesus socialized with those the temple priests would condemn, and healed the “unclean” lepers, he used those opportunities to teach about the love of God and the wideness of God’s mercy. A soul opened to God’s love begins to love God in return, and—for the sake of that love, and in honor of that mercy—eventually conforms life and manner to God’s will. …

Jesus is the source of articulated doctrine on both marriage and divorce. The world may disagree—it clearly stopped listening about divorce some decades ago—but the churches are and will remain bound to his teachings.

Meanwhile, if we lose the ability to respect that people can only go as far as their consciences will allow, we risk becoming mired in a muck of illusion, imagining hate where none exists, equating compelled behavior with authentic love, and losing sight of the fact that traveling together sometimes means that we walk the extra mile on one challenging road, and they walk it on the next. Everyone spares a bit of shoe-leather for the sake of the other. This is how love travels.

Jesus observed the law and fulfilled the law. He did not throw the law away, for the sake of love. For the sake of love, he threw himself away. That’s another counterintuitive lesson he gave to us, as we all proceed together, slouching toward “tolerance” and carrying our consciences along the way.

While the Arizona bill has potentially bad and unintended effects, it’s not “Jim Crow.” The Jim Crow laws required businesses to segregate, rather than allow them to do so. It was a system of state-enforced segregation, which pointedly did not allow for individual conscience on the issue. This may well be a bad bill, but Kirsten Powers is off base on that comparison.

Update: Andrew Sullivan finds common ground with Erick Erickson:

That’s my feeling too. I would never want to coerce any fundamentalist to provide services for my wedding – or anything else for that matter – if it made them in any way uncomfortable. The idea of suing these businesses to force them to provide services they are clearly uncomfortable providing is anathema to me. I think it should be repellent to the gay rights movement as well.

The truth is: we’re winning this argument. We’ve made the compelling moral case that gay citizens should be treated no differently by their government than straight citizens. And the world has shifted dramatically in our direction. Inevitably, many fundamentalist Christians and Orthodox Jews and many Muslims feel threatened and bewildered by such change and feel that it inchoately affects their religious convictions. I think they’re mistaken – but we’re not talking logic here. We’re talking religious conviction. My view is that in a free and live-and-let-live society, we should give them space. As long as our government is not discriminating against us, we should be tolerant of prejudice as long as it does not truly hurt us. And finding another florist may be a bother, and even upsetting, as one reader expressed so well. But we can surely handle it. And should.

Leave the fundamentalists and bigots alone. In any marketplace in a diverse society, they will suffer economically by refusing and alienating some customers, their families and their friends. By all means stop patronizing them in both senses of the word. Let them embrace discrimination and lose revenue. Let us let them be in the name of their freedom – and ours’.

Indeed.


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