I have never been to Uganda, but I have been to Arizona, and now I am not wanted in either, apparently. It's not because I am white, or because I am American, or because I make darn-good money and could contribute to tourism. Rather, I'm not wanted because I'm gay. Well, lucky for those places (and for me, really), I'm not going to pass through, visit, or give them my money or time.
Recently Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni decided that he would sign a bill that toughens penalties for homosexuality and makes some homosexual acts a crime punishable by imprisonment. Fortunately, the bill no longer contains a clause that would have made the death penalty an option; this was removed when Western countries threatened to withdraw their aid to Uganda.
Then, right in our backyard -- well, California's, at least -- the Arizona legislature passed a bill that would allow business owners to refuse service to lesbian and gay people if serving them would violate the business owner's "sincerely held" religious beliefs.
I took world history, state history, civics, and many more "governmental classes" throughout my school years in both public and private institutions. For some reason we were never taught that the civil rights situation before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was OK. I mean, we were taught that the act alone made it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. (Clearly, those nine students did not choose to be black, but they did choose to seek an education and were denied it by their state's government until a president got involved.)
I remember looking at the pictures printed in my old McGraw Hill textbooks that showed some person (who I now call an idiot) holding a "Whites Only" sign, or enforcing a "Blacks to the Back" policy on a bus. The paragraphs on those stained pages talked about how legislation altered the rules, or how protests ensued to demand change. But in those books I never came across the point of view of someone who had held those beliefs and now realized how society had changed. Maybe it was because they were never asked, or could it be because society actually has not changed? I really guess that history does repeat itself unless we learn from our mistakes.
I'm not the guy to change laws, but I am the guy to want to change hearts. I do not know if I could ever refuse service to someone, refuse to interact with a person, or even call the police on two people of the same sex kissing and make sure that they went to jail. But then again, I'm not an Arizonan or Ugandan legislator.
I don't understand how someone in 2014 can hold the opinion that someone who leads a lifestyle they don't agree with should be denied business, service and civil rights. I can no longer entertain the comment "Well, thank God we live in a free country," because in fact it isn't free! If we are going to criticize Uganda, we've got to keep in mind the state of Arizona!
I've tried to understand it. I have had the same public and private education that was offered to those lawmakers in Arizona. I have had access to the same religious beliefs that they posses as well. By no means am I smarter than they are (they do a job that I don't think I could ever do), but I truly don't understand the rationale behind such laws.
Is it to protect a straight family that may be out to eat, so their children aren't subjected to seeing an example of another type of family? Is it to guard against bakers having to write two male names on a cake with the word "Congratulations"? Perhaps it is to shield the hardware-store salesman from having to worry about if offering a screw driver to a male customer is going to be considered flirting. Or is it maybe a law to make sure that the lady behind the counter at the store doesn't take the money from the set of ladies purchasing groceries, because she may get cooties from touching the dollar bills they hand her?
OK, I admit these ideas are a bit ludicrous, but the law itself is, as well.
I'm glad we have given the power of refusal of service to a minimum-wage worker whom a manager refuses to listen to about making the workplace more efficient but who can make an announcement over the intercom that there is a gay couple on aisle 4 and refuse to let them purchase a loaf of bread. I'm glad that now a corporation can legally pick and choose their customers on the basis of religious belief.
I'm not sure I understand it, nor will I ever, I guess. The only thing I can do is what I know how to do, and what I wish many more people did. That is love, include, celebrate and embrace others for who they are. After all, if the point of going into business is to make money, wouldn't you want to welcome the spending, not turn it away? Oh, wait, I forgot: Straight money is worth more than gay money. Sound crazy? Well, so does your new law. But what do I know?
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