Know Your Neighbors
My intention has always been to write about issues by introducing neighbors who are making a difference in our community, while hopefully informing readers about something they may not already know.
Once in a while, however, I feel the need to sound off on something about which I am outraged—something that affects all of us.
When I studied the Constitution in law school, I was particularly impressed by the guarantee of equal rights, an aspiration our nation has consistently pursued, and a cause in which I have been involved since “the good old days.”
You remember those times, don’t you? The days when if an unmarried woman got pregnant, she had to get married, and the days when child or spousal abuse was something that happened behind closed doors. It was a time when women didn’t even get close to the glass ceiling, and when blatant discrimination in the name of traditional norms was allowed and even encouraged. It was a time when husbands and wives knew their proper, God-given roles in a marriage, and when marriage could only be between two people of the opposite sex.
The good old days.
We now live in a time when we have witnessed amazing social and cultural movements challenging those old norms—as we begin to recognize that the good old days weren’t so good for everyone.
By law, by court decisions, and by changed hearts and minds, we now accept the concept of equal voting rights, nondiscrimination in public accommodations, equal pay for equal work, and inter-racial marriage. We also accept that private consensual sexual behavior is just that—private.
So how are we modeling our heightened sensibility about equality?
In Uganda and Nigeria, American conservative Christian activists assisted those governments in drafting laws that criminalize homosexual behavior—with life imprisonment as a possible punishment. (They finally dropped the death penalty!) Public brutality against homosexuals has been the result.
In Russia, the Olympic Games were overshadowed by that country’s recent law that criminalizes spreading “propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientations” and prohibits adoptions by gay individuals, all in the name of supposedly protecting Russian children.
Even here in the Coachella Valley, we have “dirty tricks” politics that negatively characterized a candidate for the Rancho Mirage City Council due to his sexual orientation.
The Legislature in our neighboring state, Arizona, passed a law that would allow, on the basis of religious freedom, businesses to deny services to people who happen to be gay. The cake-icer at the local supermarket could refuse to decorate a cake with “Happy Anniversary Larry and Joe.”
Which “religious freedoms” would be deemed acceptable? Would that law cover a Muslim car dealer who wants to refuse service to Jews? Or a Christian computer salesperson who wants to discriminate against atheists? If Arizona’s law prevailed, would there be a test when you walk through the door of a public establishment to determine whether you’re gay?
In the United States, marriage laws are made by the states—but federal courts are increasingly overruling state laws prohibiting gay marriage, largely based on the precedent of the Supreme Court decision in Windsor last year. That decision said that the federal government cannot deny equal treatment of legal marriages, regardless of the gender of the spouses.
The decision struck down part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress, and ostensibly invalidated numerous state laws that specifically deny legal status for gay married couples, even if they have been legally married in another state.
Gay marriage is currently legally recognized in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Courts in Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Utah and Texas have already acted to strike down anti-gay-marriage laws; some of those cases are being appealed.
The arc toward justice on marriage equality is bending quickly—but not everywhere, and now marriage equality, and other forms of equality, are being fought using claims of religious liberty.
What about the rights of private business owners? The Civil Rights Act of 1964 says that a business cannot refuse service on the basis of “arbitrary” conditions like race, color, religion, or national origin. Arbitrary standards are based on individual judgment or preference.
We allow businesses to post signs saying, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” but only if based on objective standards—for example, if a customer’s presence may detract from the “safety, welfare, and well-being of other patrons.”
Objective standards can be equally applied—a bar refusing to sell a drink to an obviously drunk person, or a fancy restaurant refusing to admit someone wearing shorts and no shoes.
Arizona lawmakers wanted to justify an arbitrary standard on the basis of the religious convictions of the business owner or employee. Sexual orientation is an arbitrary condition, no different from where someone was born, or their race. We should not be passing laws that enshrine arbitrary discrimination, no matter the justification.
As for gay marriage, before long, the U.S Supreme Court will have to revisit the issue and give a definitive ruling that once and for all sets policies for the nation as a whole, a position they avoided in Windsor.
We all know people like the La Quinta resident (a service provider who shall remain nameless) who says, “I’m not opposed to how anyone wants to live, but do they have to whine about it all the time? Life isn’t fair. It wasn’t fair when my spouse died young and left me to raise two young children alone. But I didn’t whine about it—I just got on with my life.”
I have a gay son who was in a 20-year gay relationship that ended badly; a female cousin who has been in a 30-year lesbian relationship that is thriving; and lots of local friends and neighbors who are living together, married or not, gay and heterosexual, who just want the arc of justice, for themselves and their friends and neighbors, to bend a little more quickly. They just want to get on with it—live their lives, raise their children, participate in their communities, and have the dignity and equality each and every one of us deserves.
How long are we willing to wait on behalf of some of our brothers, sisters, children and neighbors for justice to prevail?
I am not gay. I am just outraged.