HB 376, SB 1062 disappeared fast for good reason

March 3, 2014

The dust is settling on Arizona’s SB 1062, which by all accounts would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, based on religious beliefs, had Gov. Jan Brewer not vetoed it.

Coincidence or not, 16 other states were considering similar legislation that would have had a similar effect. This legislation has been effectively killed in 13 of those states and appears headed nowhere fast in the other three. One of the states that yanked the legislation was Ohio. Its proposal was HB 376. Two of the cosponsors on that bill (44 cosponsors were listed) were Delaware County’s state representatives, Andrew Brenner and Margaret Ann Ruhl.

With so many legislators in so many states involved in the preparation of such bills, it would be a mistake to assume some, or any, had any nefarious motive in mind and we will not assume that here. Typically, proposed state legislation gets examined, discussed and chewed over pretty thoroughly before it is signed into law. Changes to proposed legislation are the rule, not the exception, and it would be a fair assumption that in some states, at least, the most egregious sections of the SB 1062 clones would have been killed before the bills passed both houses and reached the governor.

All of that changed, of course, when the fierce gaze of public scrutiny zeroed in on SB 1062. When nationally known Republicans, Major League Baseball, the National Football League and even those who oppose same-sex marriage all start crying foul, you know something is seriously amiss. It’s important that we understand why it was amiss.

Some devout people have a serious problem with the opening words of the Bill of Rights - “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” What they fail to realize is these two ideas — absolute separation from the government and freedom to worship as one chooses — go hand in hand, and a nation cannot have one without the other.

The excesses of official government religion in Europe had to be fresh in the minds of the Founding Fathers when they penned that section of the First Amendment. The European legacy was a long backlog of persecution and slaughter, from the Crusades to the Inquisition to the Thirty Years War to pogroms. Wait a minute. Decent Americans wouldn’t do things like that, would they? The Constitution helps ensure we won’t. And as Europe showed, it is the minorities, not the majority, that need protection. That need is as genuine now as it ever was. In terms of religion, the churches and groups that backed the SB 1062 clones are the majority.

Even if someone backed an SB 1062 clone, a nasty wrinkle arises. How does one know who is gay, bisexual etc? Must they be forced to wear a badge, like the yellow star imposed by the Nazis? What if the rumor is someone is gay and they deny it? And what if a slander suit arises that wipes out the devout business? Unpleasant prospects all.

The economic implications of an SB 1062 clone becoming law are mind-bending. Most of that discussion has centered on SB 1062 itself, which attracted the most attention. Businesses in Arizona and those having dealings there protested in significant numbers, knowing they would lose customers. No matter what else one thinks of gays, it must be admitted they have money to spend. Why would any state be eager to shout that it doesn’t care if that money goes elsewhere?

Lastly, the issue of public accommodation was settled during the Civil Rights era. Any well-mannered paying customer wearing shirt and shoes has a right to be served. The SB 1062 clones threatened to re-institutionalize bigotry. Former Okahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a same-sex marriage opponent, said it well: “This isn’t 1964 anymore. … If you open up your doors to the general public, you can’t pick and choose who you are going to deal with.”