News & Politics

How Arizona Anti-Gay Legislation Can Hurt the People It Intends to Support

Maybe this law should pass and let nature take its course; these "Christians" will not be able to serve anyone but their own church members and will go out of business in the first month.

Photo Credit: Benjamin F. Haith /

Here's an interesting perspective on Arizona's new gay discrimination law. The author talks about the fact that Jackie Robinson breaking the color line didn't stop racial discrimination. In fact, black players for many years after had to contend with Jim Crow laws when they traveled with their teams.

He uses the examples of Hank Aaron and Michael Sam to examine Arizona's proposal:

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Coming up through the Milwaukee Braves minor league system, Aaron was one of three minority players on a team based in Jacksonville, FL and traveling to games throughout the southeastern United States. Although the team was integrated, Aaron and fellow farmhands Felix Mantilla and Horace Garner knew that most restaurants were not. Time and again, they would not be served when the team showed up for a meal on the road. A few of their teammates stood up to make sure they ate. Many did not. Nor did others, including league officials.

Could [Michael] Sam, the University of Missouri All-American football player and top draft prospect who is likely to be the first openly gay player in the NFL, come up on a similar road as Aaron did? He might, if a bill now making its way from the Arizona legislature to the governor’s desk is signed into law.

That bill, which legislators gave final approval on this past Thursday, provides changes to existing state laws having to do with religious freedom, including an expansion of who is protected under those laws. It would effectively allow a business owner to deny service to customers when such work violates their religious beliefs. And if a discrimination lawsuit were to emerge as a result, the business owner would have a defense by providing that the decision was motivated by “sincerely held” religious beliefs and that giving such service would have substantially burdened the exercise of those beliefs.

Critics of the bill see it as a license to discriminate against certain people, particularly those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. They are right. This is simply revisiting the Jim Crow South in a different guise—skin color is now sexual preference.

This isn't the first article to make the obvious connection between this new law and Jim Crow, but I think putting it into the context of sports is well done. The "team" concept brings up the real potential problem here — family. Jim Crow discriminated against all African Americans and they could do it because Southern whites of the era were all of one mind and the law could easily keep up a pretense of "separate but equal." But that bigoted social infrastructure doesn't exist today. Do these allegedly religious people not understand that most Americans are related to gay people and that the vast majority of us have gay friends, acquaintances, and co-workers? Even in Arizona it's hard to imagine that there are enough proud homophobes with no ties to gay people to openly support more than one ugly restaurant with lousy food. Who do they expect to be their customers?

Maybe it makes more sense to just allow this law to pass and let nature take its course --- these "Christians" will not be able to serve anyone but their own church members and will go out of business in the first month. Once they're all disabused of the idea that you can make a living in 2014 being a roaring bigot, I'd assume that Arizona would then quietly repeal this hideous law and try to pretend it never happened.

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.