By Robert A. Vella
Next week, Arizona governor Jan Brewer will have to decide whether to sign or veto a “religious freedom” bill that would make it legal for “business organizations” to discriminate against LGBT customers. The controversial and often independent-minded governor finds herself once more in a no-man’s-land between opposing political forces. If she signs the bill, the business-friendly reputation of her state will suffer another painful blow (see: Arizona Immigration Law Costing The State Millions Every Year). If she vetoes the bill, it will again anger her right-wing conservative base (see: Jan Brewer Vetoes Bills After Vowing Not To Sign Legislation Until State Passes Medicaid Expansion).
Like so much of American politics these days, Brewer is between a moral rock and a hard-right place. As the marriage equality movement sweeps across the nation, it has triggered a spiteful backlash from Christian fundamentalists who have been pushing similar “Turn away the Gays” legislation in several states (see: States Push Anti-Gay Bills That Would Allow Businesses To Turn Away Same-Sex Couples). The crux of the problem rests squarely upon interpreting the First Amendment’s establishment clause which states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the secular nature of the U.S. Constitution, and that the “free exercise” of religion does not enable discrimination which violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. Since Christian fundamentalists believe there is no higher authority than that of their god, they are unable to accept any determination outside their faith. Therefore, the conflict is an internal one for social conservatives as much as it is an external one for the LGBT community.
Even considering the current 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, it is difficult to imagine a ruling in favor of legalized gay discrimination.
What will Governor Brewer decide?
For a more religious view of this debate, see: Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer in pressure cooker over ‘anti-gay’ bill