Mike Pence, states’ rights, and the freedom to discriminate

Mike Pence, states’ rights, and the freedom to discriminate

Republican candidate for president Donald Trump has chosen Mike Pence — the Indiana Governor who has recently become an infamously-known political commodity by firing the first salvo in the war known as the “Religious Freedom Restoration” movement — as his running mate. Pence signed into law an act passed by his state legislature permitting businesses to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* people, and members of all other groups owners consider heretical to their beliefs, judgments, and precepts.

Since then, this expanding movement has gained support in state houses across the country, as exemplified in Mississippi’s new “religious freedom” law patterned after Indiana’s. And North Carolina passed its HB 2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, which includes a section that prohibits trans* people from entering a restroom that differs from the sex assigned to them on their birth certificate.

Through arduous and highly contested debates, the framers of our great Constitution endeavored to strike a prudent balance of powers, not only between the three branches of the federal government, but also between the federal and state governments. They endeavored to lay the blueprint for a system that would grant to the states that which they did not specifically accord to the centralized national government. Numerous Constitutional amendments and judicial decisions over the years have increasingly fine-tuned this system in ways and over issues the original framers could not have even imagined.

Over our history, individuals and entire political parties have broadcast clarion calls, delivered from soap boxes and mountain tops to newspaper editorial pages, for increased rights of the states to decide issues as they see fit, even when these contrast significantly from Congressional legislation and judicial decisions.

Political operatives have cried “states’ rights,” often utilizing so-called “religious” justifications over issues of slavery, interracial marriage, racial segregation, women’s enfranchisement and the rights of women to control their bodies, public schooling, rights to education and other services for people with disabilities, immigration status, voting rights, so-called “Blue Laws” prohibiting Sunday sales, and many other areas of public policy.

“States rights” and “religious freedom” have long served as the allied battle cry as well for state legislators to deny lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* (LGBT) people the rights and privileges summarily granted to their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. Today, no national laws require all states to protect residents from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, counseling, insurance, and other areas based on sexual identity and gender identity and expression.

Currently, only 22 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have passed non-discrimination laws in housing, for example, protecting people’s rights based on sexual orientation, and 19 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, on the basis of gender identity and expression.

So what can we infer from those religions that justify such discriminatory treatment of other human beings?

In terms of LGBT equality, I simply cannot comprehend the clear and undeniable contradiction between a religion’s expressed claims, in various forms, to love one’s neighbor as oneself, and how it is better to give than to receive, combined for example, with a baker’s refusal to bake a confectionery delight; a photographer’s refusal to preserve joyous moments; a caterer’s refusal to cook the pleasures of delectable sustenance; a florist’s refusal to arrange the beauties from the garden; a jeweler’s refusal of a band connecting human souls; a realtor’s refusal to show shelters signifying new chapters in one’s book of time, or a landlord’s refusal to rent; a shop owner’s refusal to sell the common and special objects supporting and enhancing life; a restauranteur’s refusal to provide anyone a time away from the kitchen; an employer’s refusal to hire a fully qualified and committed employee, all these based solely on peoples social identities.

Therefore, we must see the “states’ rights” argument for what it really is: states’ rights to discriminate. And we must challenge the long-standing and deeply-held biases within some denominations that employ “religious” justifications that allow them the “religious freedom” to oppress. 

Donald Trump, by choosing Mike Pence, has added LGBTQ people to his already long list of “the Others,” which includes Mexicans and all Central and South American-heritage people, Muslims, people with disabilities, all women, plus anyone who supports the “Black Lives Matter” movement. By choosing Mike Pence, Trump has double-downed in his attempts to divide and conquer the electorate by instilling fear in promising the bigoted the “freedom” to discriminate to the fullest extent of the law without the threat of prosecution.

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