The bigotry that dare not speak its name

At various points over the past two years, Georgia proponents of so-called "religious liberty" legislation would try to make the argument that their crusade had nothing to do with gay people or gay marriage or anti-gay discrimination. State Sen. Josh McKoon, the poor man's Williams Jennings Bryant from Columbus, was a particularly ardent pitchman for that approach, piously arguing that all they wanted to do was write the same religious-liberty protections into state law as existed on the federal level.

The claim was dishonest to its core, and in other settings -- sermons, statehouse rallies and occasionally in committee hearings -- McKoon's allies made their real target clear as day.  McKoon himself, when challenged to accept simple language stating that his bill could not be used to justify anti-gay discrimination, gave the game away by refusing to do so.

And of course, we now have the anti-gay legislation passed recently in Mississippi and North Carolina as further confirmation of the real goals of the movement.

In North Carolina, the Legislature and governor used a one-day special session to pass a bill stripping local governments of the power to adopt ordinances that protect gays against discrimination. The move gutted an ordinance recently passed by Charlotte, just as McKoon's legislation would have gutted such ordinances here in Atlanta and Savannah. The North Carolina law also gutted anti-discrimination laws in Raleigh, Asheville, Greensboro and Chapel Hill and in Mecklenburg, Buncombe and Orange counties.

The move has produced a predictable economic backlash against North Carolina, with LionsGate transferring a TV project out of state and PayPal canceling an expansion project that would have brought 400 good jobs with an annual payroll of more than $20 million. Other companies are likely to follow suit, and there's no telling what the final impact will be.

And the very state leaders who created the crisis are now attempting to deny responsibility for it.

“If (Charlotte Mayor) Jennifer Roberts, (Attorney General) Roy Cooper and the far-left political correctness mob she’s unleashed really care about the economic future of her city, they’ll stop the misinformation campaign immediately and start telling the truth about this common-sense bathroom safety law before more damage is done,” House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Republican leader Phil Berger said in a press release this week.

The tone of that statement is telling, as is the description of the new state law as a "common-sense bathroom safety law." Moore and Berger know quite well that the law in question does far more than address which bathrooms can be used by transgender citizens. The specter of transgender citizens donning drag as a ploy for sexual predation in bathrooms is ridiculous, but they prefer to cling to that ridiculous argument rather than admit the much larger scope and intent of the bill. It is the bigotry that dare not speak its name.

In Mississippi, meanwhile, legislators approved a bill that explicitly allows individuals, government employees and private businesses to discriminate against people on the basis of sexual preference. Under the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act," the state is prohibited from taking action against anyone who discriminates against gay people, as long as that discrimination is motivated by a "sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction" against homosexuality.

The law is clearly insulting, but it's the gratuitous nature of the insult that makes it so appalling. In Mississippi, as in Georgia and North Carolina and other states, it is already perfectly legal under state law to discriminate against gay people. They can be fired, demoted, denied service at a restaurant or barred from housing rental or purchase, and state law gives them no recourse to complain.

These bills amount to an effort to make such legal discrimination really really really legal, and to ensure that no local government intervenes. To repurpose appropriate rhetoric, they confer "special rights" on those who fear, hate or dislike gay people, and who need reassurance that they will continue to be able to act upon those impulses.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.