America’s slide into intolerance

Don’t think too deeply about it and it appears a clear cut victory for tolerance and a blow against bigotry. Arizona governor Jan Brewer’s decision to strike down a law which would have permitted business owners to refuse service to homosexuals based on their religious beliefs seems like a noble idea. But then you think about it.

As of now in Arizona gay people have the right to give homophobic businesses their custom. The benefits of such an agreement are all one way as far as I can tell. Homophobic business owners must provide their products and services to people whose lifestyle they disapprove of, which, one assumes, will not result in a great flowering of state-wide consumer satisfaction. We can expect hundreds of lawsuits over the coming decades in which dissatisfied and paranoid gay customers accuse business owners of sabotaging wedding cakes, damaging dry-cleaning and overcooking steaks.

Why are gay people lobbying for the right to give bigots their hard-earned money? To this gay-friendly, straight man it seems absurd, like African-Americans lobbying government for the legal right to join the Ku Klux Klan.

Instead of involving government, gay communities in Phoenix or Flagstaff should be organising boycotts of businesses ‘hostile’ to homosexuals, hitting them where it hurts most. The most obvious example of this method’s success is the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama, during which all right-thinking people refused to give their cash to a company that was behaving unethically.

Assuming enough of the community agreed that injustices against gay people were being perpetrated, the business would go bust. This is surely a better way to change society; organically and gradually, without need of legal coercion. Similarly, locals who shared a baker’s belief that homosexual acts are ‘wrong’ might rally in support. The bakery would be patronised by those who agreed with the owner’s stance, and gay people and their supporters would avoid it.

Even better, both sides might quietly accept that some people have different opinions, and leave each other alone. We call that acceptance of diversity.

As things stand now the baker has to bake that wedding cake for Jim and Dave, and Jim and Dave can celebrate their legal right to keep him in business.

The global attitude towards homosexuality is one of rapidly increasing acceptance, but it is still illegal in most of Africa and the Islamic world, and only in recent years have gay people in the west been given the rights others take for granted. The fight for marriage equality continues across the west.

Governor Brewer’s actions were no doubt well-intentioned. But has this ruling made anyone in Arizona less homophobic? The answer is surely no. Like the average Afghan or Jamaican, many Americans simply find homosexuality unpalatable.

When gay Americans travel in Dubai or Egypt they don’t expect the same tolerance for their sexual orientation as they’d receive in San Francisco or Sydney. This is probably because when they travel abroad they accept that there are different cultures and belief systems, and that not everyone has ‘caught up’ with New York or Portland.

Plainly lots of Arizonans haven’t ‘caught up’ with New York or Portland either, but in the modern United States diversity of opinion is only permitted when it has been vetted by liberal thought police. The demand that all Americans hold the same opinions and beliefs is a gentle totalitarianism, and nothing else. Brewer’s actions represent not a strike against injustice, but an erosion of liberty. It is profoundly illiberal to tell a business owner whom they can serve, and it is deeply stupid for gay people to celebrate the ensuing legal coercion. Most of all, though, it is anti-American.

‘Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges.’ (The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the government). – Tacitus.

About the Author
Derek Hopper is a native of Ireland, where he studied history at the National University of Ireland. He lives in Bangkok.
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