America prides itself on being an open and pluralistic society, but a recent Arizona bill is another reminder that there are still many issues to be addressed. The bill, already passed by the state legislature, but not yet signed, is supposed to address religious freedom. However the pending Arizona bill, seen by many as anti-homosexual, has caused outrage in some circles.
Essentially, the bill states that business owners can refuse to serve someone if doing so would be against their religion. While those who support the bill see it as a protection of religious freedom, others see it as an attack on homosexuals.
It is not too difficult to see why Arizona’s “anti-gay” bill would cause many people to be outraged. It must be pointed out that this potential new law seems a little similar to the Jim Crow laws of America’s past. Most Americans probably do not want to revisit those times. The United States has certainly come a long way since then, but it seems that there are still disputes over some of the same issues.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution is one document that could potentially be used against the bill. For one thing it says that states cannot make laws that restrict the privileges and immunities of a United States citizen. It also says that people cannot be denied equal protection under laws.
The Fourteenth Amendment seems more about applying laws equally to everyone, rather than a statement on who businesses can serve. A better text would be the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Among other things, the Civil Rights Act states that public services, goods and facilities cannot be restricted on the basis of race, color, religion, or nation of origin. Granted, it can be argued that sexual orientation is nowhere mentioned in the Civil Rights Act. However, sexual orientation was not as big an issue then as discrimination based on race. One could possibly say that the spirit of the law would be against segregation of any kind even if homosexuals are not actually mentioned.
The problem that the Arizona government is facing is that it is trying to balance the rights and privileges of one group against those of another. For example, a restaurant owner who does not want to serve homosexuals for religious reasons could make the case that his or her religious freedom is being violated. On the other hand, homosexuals can rightly state that they are not being treated the same as everyone else. It seems that things are at a bit of an impasse.
Perhaps the question should be asked is: can situations like these be solved without the government becoming involved? The answer might be yes, at least in most cases. There will always be people who do not like other groups, but in today’s society blatant discrimination is not a recipe for economic success. In some areas, a business owner who openly discriminates can risk becoming a pariah.
The negative publicity that Arizona risks has already got some businesses concerned. In fact, one article states that some businesses have already threatened to leave Arizona if the bill becomes a law.
As with so many issues, the Arizona “anti-gay” bill has people of all walks of life outraged for various reasons. Governor Brewer will need to think carefully before she makes a decision on this bill.
Editorial By Zach Kirkman
Los Angeles Times