Columns » Ernest Dumas

Legislating discrimination

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Shortly, the Arkansas legislature will declare discrimination as official state policy, something that it has rarely done, at least overtly, since before the Civil War. This time, can we discuss it rationally without the rage that characterized the tantrums for slavery, secession and abolition back then? Let's try.

The vehicles for the official discrimination policy are SB 202, the "Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act," by Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) and Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville) and HB 1228, the "Conscience Protection Act," by Hester, Ballinger and 28 other Republicans. They would make it state policy that if someone for religious reasons doesn't want to do business with a biological group — specifically gays, lesbians and others whose genes and hormones don't break distinctly into the straight male and female ranks, but perhaps other groups as well, like Muslims or Hindus — it would be perfectly all right.

Other forms of discrimination are clearly prohibited already — you can't just refuse to sell a hamburger or a pair of shoes to a black woman, a Jew or a disabled man although people once believed that the Bible condoned it — but discrimination against "sexual minorities" will be OK and officially protected if you genuinely believe that God, or whatever deity you worship, demands you to treat them that way.

The bills are an answer to the growing trend of local governments to declare themselves discrimination-free in hopes it will attract business, conventions or simple dwellers. Fayetteville passed such an ordinance, then rescinded it when religious conservatives objected, and now Eureka Springs, perhaps Little Rock and other cities are doing it. The Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act, when it becomes law, will bar cities, counties or any government agency from interfering with discrimination against a minority like those I described above. So many legislators either voted against the bill, or ducked on the roll call that the emergency clause didn't pass, so it will be July before discrimination is officially OK.

People are lobbying Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto the bill, as the right-wing Republican governor of Arizona did last February when a similar bill reached her desk. Business groups and the last two Republican presidential nominees, Mitt Romney and Arizona's own Sen. John McCain, pleaded with her to veto it. Like Ballinger's and Hester's Conscience Protection Act, it would have allowed a business to refuse to sell things to gays and lesbians if that violated the owner's religion, and city and county governments couldn't have forbidden such discrimination.

Hutchinson has said he won't sign SB 202 — a good lawyer, he knows it is unconstitutional and that it will cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars — but he will yield to the wishes of a majority of legislators (since they are all members of his party) and let it become law without his signature. He expressed some wish that the state, like the federal government, wouldn't tell elected local governments what they can't do, but if legislators want to tell them anyway, who was he to stand in their way?

But let's look at it from the religionists' standpoint. The Bible, or at least the early part of the Old Testament, authorizes — yes, even requires — a certain amount of hate, suspicion and retribution when it comes to sinners, and true believers can't in good conscience treat such people with the respect that everyone else gets. In fact, the government should cheer the discrimination, as the Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act, the Conscience Protection Act and Arizona's religious discrimination bill do.

Their text for discriminating against gays and lesbians is right there in the Book of Leviticus, where God lays down the law to Moses about what people were not to do and often what the terrible punishment was to be if they did it anyway. He listed a litany of things that he viewed as "abominations" — eating seafood that has no fins or scales, like shrimp, mussels and oysters, or pork and other animals that don't have cloven hooves; wearing clothes that mix wool and linen fibers; planting different crops in the same field; crossbreeding cattle; harvesting your crop or vineyards without leaving some in the field for the poor, and, finally, lying down with someone of the same sex.

In the case of the same-sex partners, God told Moses they were to be killed, although He didn't say it was your job to kill them if you caught them. About all the other abominations dealing with food, clothing, crops and many other sins He was not quite as clear; but, according to the King James version, He said if you violated any of those commandments: "I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it." That's just the beginning; it gets far worse.

The preachers who condemn the abomination of same-sex attractions don't mention any of the others, perhaps out of compassion for the universal sinners of their congregations who've committed some or all the abominations.

Before you condemn business people for wanting to discriminate, ponder it a second from their standpoint. They have eaten pork and shrimp, worn raiment with mixed threads, eaten the beef of mixed breeds, violated at least a dozen other commandments of Leviticus and have friends and family members who have done the same, or else they have not had their disobedient sons stoned to death by the mayor and city council as God demands in Deuteronomy 21:18-21.

Now, if you can't at least refuse to sell a cake to a lesbian couple, what hope for salvation do you have?

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