To be perfectly clear at the outset, by referring to religious freedom laws that allow discrimination against LGBT citizens as new “Jim Crow” legislation, there’s no intention to equate the gay experience in the U.S. with the African-American experience. But continuing where we left off yesterday, there’s clearly a parallel between Jim Crow tactics and some of the modern workarounds used by opponents of equality. So, the Jim Crow frame is more about a similarity in tactics, and less about the degree of oppression against each group.
And the “anti-gay Jim Crow” beat marches on, this time in Arkansas where another bill threatens to block anti-discrimination laws. Yesterday, we discussed the existence of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs), laws that legalize discrimination and intolerance based on the religious freedom clause of the First Amendment. The Arkansas bill is different, but has the same impact. Senate Bill 202 (SB202) would make it illegal to pass anti-discrimination laws at the local or county levels, and it would strike down any existing laws such as one that was recently passed in Eureka Springs. That’d include any laws against “employment, housing, public accommodations” or any other local anti-discrimination laws.
The news only gets worse from there. Not only did SB202 pass the state legislature with supermajority support, but Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced on Friday that he’s allowing the bill to become a lawwithout his signature — a step that will occur automatically on Wednesday. Hutchinson’s statement read in part:
I recognize the desire to prevent burdensome regulations on businesses across the state. However, I am concerned about the loss of local control. For that reason, I am allowing the bill to become law without my signature.
Way to take a brave stand there, governor. And by “brave,” I mean “spineless.” By the way, existing local laws aren’t “burdensome” at all — in fact, quite the opposite. We’ll come back to this point. So, then, as of Wednesday night any local laws preventing businesses and other entities from firing LGBT employees; or refusing service to LGBT customers; or refusing to sell or rent a home to LGBT citizens will become null and void under Arkansas law.
Interesting, isn’t it, that states’ rights Republicans don’t want the big bad federal government telling them what to do, but it’s okay for the state government to tightly regulate what’s going on at the local level.
That said, not every Republican agrees with this kind of legislation. Last year in Crazy Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed similar legislation, while the Republican-dominated Arizona state chamber of commerce pledged its support for the veto on the grounds that the law would expose businesses to anti-discrimination lawsuits that’d hurt commerce and therefore the economy.
After analyzing the bill, we are very concerned about the effect it could have on Arizona’s economy. As leaders in the business community, we cannot support measures that could expose our businesses to litigation, nor do we want to send a message that our state is anything but an open and attractive place for visitors and the top talent that will be the cornerstone of our continued economic growth.
While conservatives are obviously not huge supporters of the LGBT community or same-sex marriage, the Brewer veto and the chamber letter prove that many (though not enough) conservatives grasp the economic damage that can be inflicted by anti-gay discrimination. The Center for American Progress backed up this analysis in a 2012 study that determined, among other things:
…a loss of $1.4 billion due to a lack of LGBT worker productivity. Moreover, the LGBT population’s buying power totals $1 trillion, and ostracizing its business prevents businesses from maximizing revenue.
The study highlighted a case study about Lynn Conway, an engineer for IBM who in 1968 transitioned from male to female and was consequently fired. It turns out Conway was instrumental in developing microprocessors for supercomputers at IBM until she was fired. As a result of its discriminatory policies, IBM squandered immeasurable company funds in this case, not only in terms of seeking out a qualified replacement to carry on her work, but also in terms of future untold profits that could’ve been generated from her obvious skills. Since then, IBM has eliminated these rules and its success is evident, undeniably due in part to this: “Our goal is to assemble the most talented workforce in our industry, and to use the skills of that diverse team to respond to the needs of our clients.”
The Arkansas economy, on the other hand, is clearly irrelevant to the Republican legislature and governor there which seems more interested in gay-bashing than robust economic growth and successful, healthy businesses. There’s no doubt that hardline conservatives will continue to build new and clever ways to block the rising tide of LGBT rights and marriage equality, even if it means damaging the economy and entrenching themselves squarely on the wrong side of history.