What “Religious Liberty” Legislation Actually Means.

What “Religious Liberty” Legislation Actually Means. April 1, 2015
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Equal marriage is a thing that is happening no matter how petulant bigots get about it. (Source: Shutterstock)

This has been a damned fine week to be an ex-Christian. I can look at this sickening flood of distortions, deceptions, wide-eyed innocent acts, hypocrisy, and out-and-out lies and not reel in disgust at sharing a label with the bigots pushing all these “religious liberty” bills. They can act all shocked YES SHOCKED THEY ARE that they’re being accused of wanting to discriminate, but absolutely nobody is fooled. These laws are purely intended to allow bigot-owned businesses to legally deny service to a class of people the business owners find ickie, which is LGBTQ people, and that is exactly how these laws are already being used by those bigoted business owners. It’s like my country has flashed sixty years to the past.

In that last link, an Indiana pizza restaurant is already gleefully planning to deny service to people desiring pizza catering for same-sex weddings. The owner, all kittenish and wide-eyed, says she’s certainly not discriminating against anyone–except she is. That’s exactly what she is doing. She is denying service to a group of people based on a characteristic she doesn’t like. She’s not being “helped” to “have a religious belief,” as she claims, because she was Christian long before this and wasn’t allowed to legally discriminate against any groups and it wasn’t bothering her at that point to do so. No, since then she has been taught that serving same-sex couples is somehow a problem, and to solve that manufactured problem she is being allowed, legally, to deny service to a particular group that her religion has taught her to despise. And that is what she is planning to do. Certainly other groups are considered sinful in her religion’s eyes, like divorced people, pagans, single mothers, and the like, and there’s no indication that she is either planning to exercise bigotry against them or that her religious practices and beliefs are being impinged upon in some way to serve them. If Indiana’s governor–and the Christians claiming all piously–that these laws are not meant to be discriminatory, then maybe someone should talk to this business owner about how she uses her out-loud voice.

It’s not like I hold every Christian accountable for what that vocal-but-shrinking minority of awful Christians does, but still, I cringe to remember how embarrassed I got when a fellow believer made such a total wreck of my religion’s credibility and reputation–and that was before such Christians were being pandered to left and right by a big segment of the American political system, and well before their desperation, impotent rage, and control-lust began to show this much. At every turn Christianists’ real motivations peek through the sanctimonious rhetoric they spew; every time we turn around some new bit of information gets revealed showing that why yes, discrimination is the goal of these laws; bigots are their authors; and toxic Christians are the only ones gleefully anticipating benefits from them. I can’t think of any point in history that the Christian Right‘s relabeling of hatred as “love” has been so reviled and publicly repudiated.

I can certainly understand all these Christians’ total indignation that they’re being called out on their doubletalk. Back in my day I’d already noticed that when a Christian made a declaration of feeling a particular way or offered an explanation for why he or she was doing (or not doing) something, everybody else was expected to nod, smile, and pretend that was exactly the truth. It isn’t just a Christian thing; as a society we have this unspoken etiquette around pretending to believe a white lie. Yes, everybody knows you hate that haircut, your alarm clock didn’t fail to go off, the dog didn’t eat your homework, it is in fact them and not you, you’re leaving the company not to spend time with your family but because you botched something royally, and you’re actually calling in “sick” because the latest WoW expansion just dropped.

We tolerate these little white lies and deceptions because generally they’re told to make other people more comfortable or to avoid an unpleasant discussion that won’t change much anyway. The haircut won’t change. You’re still late for work. The homework’s still not done. Regardless of why the breakup is happening, it’s happening. You’re still quitting. And companies don’t generally care anymore why employees call in sick because it’s all PTO anyway. Before we make that confrontation, we assess in our minds what the goal is anyway here. If it’s just “demonstrating that a white lie got told,” and nothing’s really going to change anyway even if the white lie is exposed, most of us just forget about it.

But that’s not what is going on with these “religious liberty” laws, and not how Christians are using this mostly-innocent social convention. These laws are meant to discriminate; they are meant to allow Christian business owners to deny service to anybody they think offends their hothouse-flower-fragile, delicate, hypocritical religious sensibilities. And by “anybody” we mean LGBTQ people. Christian bigots are really good at spin-doctoring and redefining words, aren’t they? Just as “traditional marriage” actually means “straights-only marriage,” “religious liberty” actually means “legal discrimination against LGBTQ people.” The only reason these laws are getting written is because overzealous Christian business owners are freaking out about doing business with LGBTQ folks. It’s not because Jewish business owners freak out over serving Muslims, or because Christians object to serving divorced people, or because reconstructionist pagans want to avoid all eclectic pagans. The only two groups standing in the arena are Christian bigots and LGBTQ people. (Well, maybe black people too–stone-cold racists proliferate among toxic Christian groups, and some of those older Christians are still mad about integration.)

Even these bigots, however, know that bigotry is bad and that bigots are bad people. So therefore they can’t possibly be bigots, and what they’re advocating, passing, and dry-humping against the wall cannot possibly be bigotry.

Their problem is that nobody sane is letting them get away with the pretenses they’re making to the contrary.

These aren’t little white lies meant to smooth over relatively innocuous situations. The social contract they’re counting on to silence opposition does not hold here. Nobody is under any obligation to smile and nod and pretend that these disingenuous insistences are the truth. In fact, it seems to me that it’s a moral imperative to hold bigots’ feet to the fire on this one and demand they look at the truth of what they are doing.

So here is what these Christian bigots are actually doing.

They want to make LGBTQ people and allies aware of their opinions, to care about their opinions, and most importantly to be affected by their opinions.

That’s it.

Simple, isn’t it?

Religious bigots are noticing that their opinions are becoming more and more irrelevant and powerless in the global marketplace of ideas, and that really bothers them. They want their opinions to matter again. And what better way than in exercising whatever little power they still have over the private lives of LGBTQ people?

They want to control the conversation again. They want the public as a whole to care enormously about what they think and want, and to give it to them without argument. They want “their country” back, as they often shout furiously in their assemblies and write in their social-media accounts, because it is indeed–in their minds at least–“theirs.” They mean that quite literally; they perceive that all these outsiders are stealing something from them by gaining access to their rights.

These bills are not about denying LGBTQ customers service in and of itself. That’s definitely the effect, but if there were another, better, faster, more effective way of reaching the goal, Christian bigots would be doing that instead, count on it; certainly they’ve tried other methods–the discredited push for reparative therapy to make LGBTQ youth feel defective and deficient, the stream of insinuations comparing gay men to pedophiles to incite hate and disgust, the stream of tiresome microaggressions meant to demoralize and Other those in the quiltbag community. No, it’s really about publicly humiliating and shaming those whom Christian bigots hate for expecting to be treated just like anybody else. Toxic Christians are on the losing end of a huge culture war that they started to prevent this exact scenario from happening, and they lost. Nobody likes losing, but they did in every single way possible and a few they might not even have envisioned when they set out to demonize, vilify, and dehumanize LGBTQ people. Every same-sex couple that walks through a florist’s doors is a vivid reminder of that loss.

So they want to conduct business as if they actually won that culture war.

These religious liberty laws are the consolation prize they want.

These Christian bigots want to see LGBTQ people come into their businesses or call these businesses up on the phone, all la-dee-dah like they’re the same as anybody, only to get told in smug tones that no, this business doesn’t serve their kind. These Christian bigots want to see and hear their enemies’ little faces crumple into tears or frustration as they get reminded yet again of their unacceptability–and of Christianist superiority.

That’s why, when a legislator in Oklahoma suggested that businesses intending to discriminate put up signs on their workplaces and websites advising customers of their intention, she got shouted down as a nasty “intolerant” foe of liberty–even though this amendment would actually have done these business owners a huge favor by directing unwanted traffic–and confrontations–away from their doors. You’d think if they really didn’t want to have LGBTQ people anywhere around their businesses that they would be happy that they could legally put up signs like back in Jim Crow days advising that black people weren’t welcome, and that’d be the biggest bonus ever. But that would defeat the purpose of personally reminding potential customers of their sin and inferiority. That would mean not personally forcing LGBTQ people to come face-to-face with these bigots’ opinions. I can see why they didn’t want to do it; a majority of people in America, including Christians, totally support equal rights for all Americans, and those people would be turned off by such public declarations. Discrimination might make Baby Jesus gurgle and coo with chortling glee, but Christianists know how unpopular their views would make them with most of the public.

Besides, they need their bigotry to be a little difficult to discern.

In a post-“religious liberty” laws America, LGBTQ customers would need to investigate carefully where they do business, ask the questions, or else they’d face censure and ostracism, have to turn and leave without getting what they entered the shop to get, and be told to their faces that they are unacceptable. LGBTQ customers would absolutely have to care what the religious opinions were of every single outfit with which they wanted to do business. And odds are, at least a few of those businesses will be run by Christian bigots who are eager, ready and waiting to leap upon these customers with both feet to turn them down. I bet they’d even wear a sad little sanctimonious Jesus Smile doing it and have the sweetest little sad catch in their voices while they told these customers If only you’d repent and become straight again with Jesus’ help or at least be coldly celibate or otherwise deeply unhappy your entire life to make me happy…. until then, you’re a nasty evil sinner and there’ll be no cake for you because I’m a bigot who ignores everything Jesus is supposed to have told me to do.

These laws have absolutely nothing to do with maintaining ideological purity in the face of a quickly-secularizing world. They have nothing to do, either, with practicing Christianity, given that oodles of Christians are speaking out against this bill and refusing to allow anti-gay bigots to speak for their faith.

This is about a group of zealots who are facing shrinking membership, prestige, and influence who are downright furious about losing their dominance–and terrified of what the world will look like when nobody gives their opinions more weight than those of any other regressive, oppressive hate groups. This spate of discrimination laws is one of their last-ditch efforts to make their opinions matter to outsiders again.

But a lot of their success is going to depend on everybody pretending along with them that these laws are something that they’re not, and it doesn’t look like Christian bigots are going to get that free pass this time.

They’ve lost the culture war, and they won’t get their consolation prize either.

Best of all, their ham-handed attempts to snatch back some kind of hollow victory from the jaws of defeat will only spark more and more Christians to wonder why their religion seems so often to produce people like these bigots.

All it takes is seeing even one time that even one of the religion’s claims is untrue to make someone wonder what else is untrue.

That’s all it takes.

So yes: let us fight against these laws; let us call out this hypocrisy and dishonesty for what it is; let us push back as hard as we can. But let us also see these laws for what they are, as one of the last enraged and flailing gasps of attempted dominance on the part of a hugely abusive system perceiving that one of its last victims is almost free.

We’re almost there, friends. Almost.

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