Category Archives: Gay Rights

Sending a Message–Updated

Back in 2000, I wrote a column for the Indiana Word about the use of legislation to “send a message.” Following passage of the so-called “Religious Freedom” bill, it seemed appropriate to revisit the points raised.

After all, hateful Hoosiers who want to discriminate against their LGBT neighbors can already do so with impunity–Indiana’s civil rights laws do not protect gay citizens. Same-sex marriages may be legal in Indiana, but gay Hoosiers can still be denied services, refused employment and/or fired just for being gay. So to the extent that SB 101 is aimed at permitting discrimination against members of the gay community, it’s totally unnecessary. Unless, of course, our lawmakers want to “send a message.”

As I pointed out back in 2000:

With all due respect to all the folks who want to use the General Assembly instead of Western Union, such an approach to lawmaking is wrongheaded and dangerous for a number of reasons.

1.) It trivializes the law. When the legislature passed measures to criminalize private sexual behavior, for example, no one seriously believed that the local constable was going to come into every bedroom to check for violations. Such measures were justified because they “sent a message.” And indeed they do, which brings us to the next problem. See Paragraph 2.

2.) Such laws send different messages to different people. Before they were struck down, sodomy laws “sent a message” to gays that they are second-class citizens. Laws making women submit to multiple “counseling sessions” or vaginal probes in order to obtain abortions signal legislative contempt for women, not respect for life. See Paragraph 3.

3.) They promote pandering. When lawmakers know perfectly well that they are engaging in a meaningless gesture, the urge to satisfy extremist constituencies can easily be justified; after all, where’s the harm?  Indiana, like many states, passed the Defense of Marriage Act to “send a message” that satisfied the Christian Right; lawmakers defended their actions to rational folks by pointing out, quite correctly, that the law hurt no one, because at the time there was no gay marriage to refuse to recognize. It was a model example of “Law as an Empty Gesture.” Of course, to gay citizens, it sent a different message. See paragraph two.

4.) “Messages” inconsistent with Constitutional values distort the balance of power in our legal system. When this original column was written, in 2000, lawmakers had just authorized posting the Ten Commandments in public buildings. Of course, that was patently unconstitutional, and lawmakers knew it. When I asked a State Representative why he and others were voting for a measure they knew would be struck down, his answer was candid: “We all have to go back and justify ourselves to the voters in Mayberry. Let the Courts take the heat.”

When lawmakers engage in this sort of unethical game playing, it feeds hostility to the judicial system, which must protect individual rights by voiding such improper and cynical measures. That hostility further erodes respect for law, and that brings us full circle. See Paragraph 1.

In the case of SB 101, we might add another likely consequence: although the measure doesn’t change Indiana laws that apply to gay folks, it may well encourage “religious” refusals to serve or employ Muslims or blacks or other Hoosiers who currently are protected under the state civil rights laws. It will almost certainly spawn expensive litigation. And it seems likely to cost Indianapolis (whose citizens by and large opposed the measure) several conventions and the economic benefits that those conventions bring.

Because the General Assembly did, indeed, “send a message.” And a lot of people received it.

Unfortunately, It Isn’t Only Texas

Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert recently responded to criticism of Republican proposals that would savagely cut food stamps by explaining that “some poor people are obese, and this will help them.”

Okay–I guess I can understand really dumb people who also lack compassion or the intelligence to refrain from embarrassing themselves. I don’t understand the voters who elect them.

Pathetic, for sure. But for pure evil, Louie (once called “the dumbest mammal to enter a legislative chamber since Caligula’s horse”) has been eclipsed by the current Texas Attorney General, who has initiated a lawsuit against the federal government over the definition of the word ‘spouse’ as it’s defined post-Windsor by the Department of Labor. The suit alleges that allowing the federal government to define same-sex partners as spouses threatens “imminent” harm to the Great State of Texas.

Specifically, the DOL change relates to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA legally protects employees’ jobs when they must take time off work to care for a spouse or immediate family member.
According to Paxton, LGBT couples should not have the legal right to take time off work to care for a seriously ill or injured spouse.
“This lawsuit is about defending the sovereignty of our state, and we will continue to protect Texas from the unlawful overreach of the federal government,” Paxton argued in a statement to press. “The newly revised definition of ‘spouse’ under the FMLA is in direct violation of state and federal laws and U.S. Constitution,”
As the courts will undoubtedly explain to Mr. Paxton–who somehow managed to graduate from law school with absolutely no understanding of the way American federalism works–there’s this pesky thing called the Supremacy Clause that limits Texas’ “sovereignty.” But whether he is ignorant of the law–or just pandering to Texans who are ignorant of the law–the astonishing part of this story is the determined viciousness with which he attacks LGBT citizens.
This lawsuit follows another similar suit (also filed by Paxton’s office) to overturn a decision that recognized one lesbian couple’s marriage. The Texas couple were granted marriage rights by the courts due in large part to one of the two suffering from severe ovarian cancer.

This degree of hate is hard to understand. But scholars have tried.

In the wake of President Truman’s 1948 order integrating the armed forces, pioneering social psychologist Gordon Allport wrote a book titled The Nature of Prejudice. Allport distinguished between two kinds of bigotry– negative social attitudes that can be changed by education and increased contact with members of the disfavored group, and the desperate, twisted hatred that Paxton’s actions exhibit, and that erupted after Obama’s election.

People in the latter group have a deep-seated psychological need to hate, and their stereotypes about the objects of that hatred are impervious to evidence. They are deeply damaged beings.

I might be able to muster up some measure of sympathy for these disordered folks, if we’d stop electing them.

 

 

 

This Business Serves Everyone

The mis-named “Religious Freedom” bill is gliding through the Indiana General Assembly, where–despite polls showing the movement’s loss of members and power– lawmakers still tremble at the thought of crossing (no pun intended) the Religious Right.

The bill is a transparent effort to dignify discrimination by businesses offended–offended, I tell you–by the very idea of taking money for goods and services from same-sex couples. Of course, by its terms, it will allow establishments to turn away anyone they dislike based upon “sincere religious convictions,” so the potential for mischief is great, but everyone knows that the intended target of the measure are those uppity homosexuals.

Of course, as Erika Smith has pointed out, merchants can already discriminate against gays with impunity, since Indiana’s civil rights law doesn’t protect against discrimination based upon sexual orientation–so an additional “We’ll show you!” bill will basically serve to announce to the rest of the country that Indiana is a state where bigots hold sway.

We may not be able to muster sufficient rational candidates and voters to fill our legislative chambers with grown-ups and nice people, but that doesn’t mean reasonable Hoosiers don’t have recourse. I am delighted to learn of “Open for Service.”

Welcome to Open For Service! We are a grassroots campaign built to honor businesses that will not turn a customer away for any differences. To register your business, it is $10.00 for a sticker and web badge with the proceeds going to SCORE a national non-profit that mentors people who would like to start a business of their own. Join us, hang out and promote an “open minded economy!”

The stickers say “This Business Serves Everyone.”

One of the great virtues of capitalism is that consumers can choose where to spend their dollars. I patronize Costco rather than Walmart because I want to support businesses that treat their employees well and avoid those who don’t. I have the right to never set foot in Hobby Lobby, or buy sandwiches from Chik-fil-A–in short, a market economy offers me the right to make choices based upon any criteria important to me.

So if, as I fear, this piece of nastiness passes into law, I plan to patronize stores with stickers–and to ask hard questions before spending my dollars at stores without them.

The Times They Are REALLY A-Changin’

At least, they are changing in Georgia. From the Georgia publication, GA Voice, we learn

If you didn’t think things could get anymore dramatic in the fight over the so-called “religious freedom” bills, think again. Michael Bowers, the infamous Republican former Georgia attorney general who was at the center of two of the state’s biggest LGBT rights cases, has been hired by Georgia Equality to help fight passage of HB 218 and SB 129. In other news, dogs and mail carriers have reached a truce, Jennifer Aniston was spotted antiquing with Angelina Jolie, and Batman is going in on a summer home in Cape Cod with the Joker.

This was the Bowers of the infamous Bowers v. Hardwick case upholding Georgia’s law against gay sodomy–a case that made criminals out of LGBT folks until it was finally overruled in Lawrence v. Texas. He is now working with Georgia Equality to fight discrimination against gay citizens and others–discrimination that he says these measures will protect.

It is no exaggeration that the proposed [measures] could be used to justify putting hoods back on the Ku Klux Klan. For decades, Georgia’s Anti-Mask Act has prohibited wearing masks in public.

The law was enacted to prohibit the Ku Klux Klan from wearing hoods in public, and by extension, to discourage participation in its activities. While this statute contains exceptions for holidays, sporting events, theatrical performances, and gas masks, it does not contain a religious exercise exception – because many Klansmen used religion to justify participation in the Klan.

But the proposed [measures] would create a religious exception that was purposefully excluded. Anonymous participation in hate groups would undoubtedly rise….

Here in Indiana, the same measure is sailing through the General Assembly.

Bower’s analysis reminded me that Indiana used to be “ground zero” for the Klan; I’d like to think we’ve evolved….that the times are also changing here.

I guess we’ll know once the legislative session concludes.

Brace for Blowback…

Or was that Brownback? As in retrograde Governor of Kansas?

According to AP,

Brownback rescinded an executive order issued in August 2007 by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The order applied to hiring and employment decisions by agencies under the governor’s direct control and required them to create anti-harassment policies as well.

 Brownback has defended his state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage,  which was recently invalidated by the federal courts. Apparently, this was his “I’ll show you” revenge.

At the same time he rescinded the order, which he criticized as “unilateral” (I think Executive Orders are “unilateral” by definition…) Brownback issued a new order reaffirming the state’s commitment to prohibit discrimination based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, gender or religion. In other words, Kansans shouldn’t pick on people unless they’re gay.

“This executive order ensures that state employees enjoy the same civil rights as all Kansans without creating additional ‘protected classes’ as the previous order did,” Brownback said in a brief statement. “Any such expansion of ‘protected classes’ should be done by the Legislature and not through unilateral action.”…

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading gay-rights group, said the jobs of hundreds of gay, lesbian and transgendered workers are now at risk, after they’ve spent nearly a decade believing they were safe on the job after disclosing their orientation or gender identity.

Two steps forward (aka same-sex marriage), one step back.

Kansas should be ashamed.