Those of us who are Southerners, either by birth or choice, must speak up about so-called “religious freedom” laws that seem to be popular among a few far-right state legislators. These laws are misnamed. In fact, they are “right to discriminate according to sexual orientation” laws. They are the 2018 equivalent of the pre-civil rights era segregation statutes. And, someday soon those legislators who are now proposing these onerous bills will be looked upon as George Wallace is today, as bigots.
As is true with those segregation laws, the misnamed “religious freedom” laws are defended on dubious moral grounds by people who cite the Bible and freedom as an excuse for bigotry. It was not morally correct in 1958 to discriminate against African-Americans by referencing the Good Book and the Constitution. It is no more morally defensible 60 years later to discriminate against the LBGTQ community by once again misusing those sources.
All people, regardless of sexual orientation, are capable of great wisdom, understanding and love. And, according to the U.S. Constitution, all Americans must be afforded the same opportunities, including political, economic and social rights. Further, the rights of LGBTQ citizens must be protected and codified throughout America today, as they were for other minorities in the past. The fact that some states actively discriminate against the LBGTQ community and that very discrimination is protected by selective state laws is counter to what our founding fathers had in mind when they were crafting a land of freedom for all people.
People of goodwill can compromise on almost every issue, but there must not be compromise with bigotry and division. Hatred is unacceptable as an American value and must not be tolerated.
The cohesiveness of America is weakened when any group of our citizens is signaled out by others for discrimination. Even more importantly, our own humanity is weakened, too. When all our welcomed with equal acceptance, our beloved nation grows in strength and decency, as does its citizens. America the beautiful is always at its best when it’s expanding individual rights for her citizens, rather than restricting them according to arbitrary and discriminatory criteria.
Over the last two years, our country has been driven into tribes by the divisive national political atmosphere. These groups look at each other with suspicion.
It is time to come together as one nation. Part of our effort to bring unity must be the acceptance of those whose sexual orientation may be different than your own. After all, these are our brothers, sisters, children, cousins, friends and neighbors. We must treat all Americans that way.
Bill Lightle, a retired teacher, is a candidate for the Georgia State Senate (District 16). Jack Bernard, a retired business executive, is a former county commission and county Republican Party chairman. Louis Fabrizio is a retired publishing executive.