What in the world’s wrong with Arizona?

Now here’s a surprise. Arizona’s legislature just passed yet another bill that screams ignorance and intolerance. The legislation, resulting from several lawsuits in other states by same-sex couples against businesses that refused to service their wedding plans, would allow business owners to cite religious beliefs as justification for such denials. Kind of a Stand Your Ground law for bigots.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the legislation on Wednesday, but the very act of its passage by Arizona lawmakers was reprehensible. Suppose pacifist business owners decide it’s against their conscience to serve active duty military? Think those same owners citing religious beliefs — as well as everyone else — might be a little infuriated?

Here’s poet and concentration camp survivor Martin Niemöller’s famous quote regarding the Nazis’ purge of targeted groups:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

There’s no comparison between Nazi genocide and the Arizona Legislature’s discrimination against gays. But the poem is a warning of what happens when we start picking out groups to target.

But that’s a humanistic argument. There’s also the legal one stemming from the 14th Amendment — “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” — and laws and court rulings on public accommodations and facilities. Any business owner who benefits from any public service, from street lighting to sidewalks to snow removal to police protection, has relinquished the right to discriminate.

On the other hand, why would a same-sex couple planning to be married want the services of a wedding planner or banquet manager or videographer who is a bigot? I suspect this whole thing would shake out over time without inane lawsuits and illegal legislation.

The Arizona legislation, similar to efforts exempting religiously affiliated institutions from providing contraceptive coverage, relies wholly on sectarian convictions. Ironically, many of those opposed to same-sex relationships and birth control are outraged when some Islamic cleric wants courts to apply Sharia law in civil cases exclusively involving Muslims. How is that any different from expecting the state to base public policy on Christian doctrine?

There’s so much good about religion — you know, like the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” — so why do some people insist on focusing on the parts that are archaic bigotry?

There’s a serious problem with people who insist they are enforcing God’s “laws.” Throughout history it’s led to wars, inquisitions, slavery and reprisals. Once others’ rights are marginalized dogmatists are capable of any atrocity, any travesty in His name. That’s not the America I signed up for.

Marty Moore is a freelance writer living in Port Richey.

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