Sunday, February 21, 2016

How Southern States are Challenging Gay Marriage

While the South likes to see itself in sanitized version of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind - a land of cavaliers and their fair ladies and beautiful antebellum houses  - the truth is that much of the South's true history has been far different and very, very ugly.  From the scourge of slavery, to segregation and the Jim Crow laws to hate filled evangelical Christians, much of the South's history is based on the subjugation and mistreatment of others.  Some things never change it seems as a number of Southern legislatures - all controlled by Republicans, of course, pandering to what my New Orleans belle grandmother would have deemed "white trash" - are enacting anti-gay laws under the disingenuous smoke screen of defending "religious liberty."  These laws grant noting less that special rights to Christian extremists and, in some cases, are worded so broadly that gays will not be the only ones to face open discrimination.  In Virginia, we fortunately have a governor who will veto the foul legislation.  Other states are a different story and businesses in Georgia are bracing for a backlash and/or considering leaving that state.  The Christian Science Monitor looks at the modern day  equivalent of the effort that undid Reconstruction.  Here are highlights: 

Four more states joined a broad conservative push against same-sex marriage this week, as several moved forward legislation that protects businesses, officials, and organizations who refuse to serve gay couples. In Kentucky, lawmakers pushed to create separate marriage licenses for gay and straight weddings. 

Citing religious liberty, lawmakers in Virginia, Georgia, and Mississippi approved bills that they say offers equal protection for same-sex marriage opponents and supporters alike. These are states where there is far less public support for the Supreme Court's June 2015 effective legalization of gay marriage than polls show nationwide. 

Although majorities of Americans support the right to gay marriage, Southern states, in particular, show a different story. In Mississippi, for example, where support for gay marriage is the lowest in the country, only 25 percent support it, and just 54 percent believe it should be illegal to discriminate against gay individuals, according to polls by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Overall, 53 percent of Americans support gay marriage, while 37 percent oppose it; 71 percent support laws against discriminating against gay or transgender people for housing or jobs.

On Friday, Mississippi's House voted 80-39 to pass a bill protecting state officials, faith leaders, and religious organizations who act on their beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman, that sex is only acceptable between husband and wife, and that gender is established at birth. The protections would include circuit clerks and judges, as well as employment decisions, such as firing an employee whose actions are considered out of line with a religious organization's views. The bill is now being held for further debate before going to the state Senate. 

Similar legislation passed in the Georgia Senate on Friday, despite businesses' concern that it could hurt the tourist industry.

Gay marriage supporters, however, say that what such legislation favors is discrimination. 
"We don’t allow people to discriminate against . . . interracial marriages, interfaith marriages, disparate-age marriages. We can’t start this precedent where there’s this one type of relationship that people can discriminate against without any fear of punishment," James Parrish, the executive director of Equality Virginia, an LGBT advocacy organization in Richmond, told the Washington Post.

From state to state, conservative lawmakers claim their religious beliefs against gay marriage face discrimination, not gay couples themselves. 

[M]ajorities of all Christian groups surveyed support non-discrimination laws to protect gay people, and majorities in all but two of those groups oppose letting private businesses refuse them service: 56 percent of white evangelicals, and 58 percent of Mormons. 

The demographic trends are pointing in a direction decidedly against the conservative positions, yet the older-generation leadership of the party is still wedded to the former consensus," George Mason University's School of Policy, Government and International Affairs Dean Mark J. Rozell told the Washington Post. "The Republicans frankly haven’t figured it out yet." 
As has been the case through so much of its history, the South is out of step with the rest of the nation and suffers a well deserved reputation of a region where hate and bigotry thrive.  Here in Virginia, the backwardness is especially acute in Southwest Virginia, a region of the state where coal industry jobs are drying up, unemployment is soaring and few businesses seek to locate because of the region's backwardness and bigotry.

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