What lessons can we take from the recent debacle in Arizona? What did their anti-gay bill tell us about the direction of the Christian Right in this country?
After the veto of Arizona's bill SB 1062, the bill ready to allow religious discrimination against homosexuals by business owners, the Christian Right is fired up. However, one aspect that seems very overlooked is the fact that the right does not care as much if this law, or laws like it are signed into law. What they do care about is that they make it as far as the governor's desk and grab national media attention.
Why? They are simply pandering to their extremist minority base. Laws like this are examples of the Christian Right flexing their muscle to show they are still a viable force regardless of their ever-dwindling numbers.
If they are able to stir up this much nationwide controversy and bring all attention to them in spite of all the other news stories nationally and internationally they understand this makes their brand of politics look strong and in doing so brings out big donors and big support for things like the upcoming mid term elections.
You see this bill in Arizona was never about actually discriminating against homosexuals. It was a strategic move because the leaders of Christian Right know the public would not stand for such discrimination, they know when the bill fails it will leave them in a perfect situation to claim that religious rights are being trampled on. They have managed to spin this veto into an attack on themselves and quickly took the position of playing the victim. They are unable to discriminate against anyone they so choose, so now they are being discriminated against.
Cathi Harrod, President of Center for Arizona Policy (CAP), an anti-marriage equality, anti-choice group who were major backers of the Arizona bill was quoted as saying that it was opponents of the bill who are being discriminatory and, "showing unbelievable hostility toward religious beliefs... America still stands for the principle that religious beliefs matter for something in this country, that we have the right to freely exercise our religious beliefs."
Harrod, and those on the Christian Right like her are not fighting for religious belief to be equal or recognized in this country; they are fighting to afford it special rights. They are trying to disguise bigotry as religious freedom. You can be a bigot and discriminate against anyone you want as long as you can claim your religious constitutes such actions. That is not what religious freedom means. Harrod knows this, but she also knows her base will buy into any line she feeds them and if she can claim discrimination against religious freedom, she will gain powerful momentum for the Christian Right.
Harrod and CAP have not stopped at SB 1062, they are pushing further legislation through the Arizona congress to further their religious agenda, once again firing up their base. Bills like HB 2565 that criminalize assisted suicide, a tactic to remove end of life choices for terminally ill citizens, or HB 2284 a bill that would place further burdens on abortion clinics to deter abortions. The bill would allow unannounced government inspections on the facilities as well as require the clinics to report on each and every abortion and detail all the steps they took to stop the women from getting an abortion in the first place.
Just as the discrimination bill did, CAP and the Christian Right have plans in place for both outcomes of the above bills or any other like it. If they win and get a bill signed they can say this is what the people want and use that momentum to push bills like it through in other conservative states, or if they lose and the bills fail, they are ready to play the victim and claim that rights of the religious in the country are being taken away.
Both of these outcomes ignite the Christian Right's base into action. The timing of these bills are no mistake, as mid-term election are upon us the Christian Right is seeking to unseat any left-wing politician they can as well as any moderate conservative that does not fall in line to religious extremism.
The right is known for turning out for elections every two years as opposed to liberals who seem to only show up every four. This means if the Christian Right can ignite a large enough base and raise enough money, they are going to be in the position they are after, having the ability to replace all liberal and moderate politicians on either side of the aisle.
The Christian Right is becoming less popular minority group in the US, but they are not afraid to play dirty. While they must deal with smaller numbers, they know how to control their voters and do just that.
If progressives in this country want to make any difference, it will require standing up against any discriminatory bill put forth by organizations such as CAP, it will mean sticking to media outlets and not allowing the Christian Right to play the victim unopposed and it will mean turning up for all elections.
If the left and moderate conservatives only look at the Christian Right as a dwindling minority and ignore the threat of their abilities, forward moving progression in this country will be lost, and even if the right cannot completely control all of congress, they can make enough of an impact to make sure no bills are passed that offer equality or choice.
The Christian Right is perfectly happy to cause a stalemate in local and federal government and bring legislation to screeching halt if they are not able to grab a large enough majority to control the bills themselves. Both outcomes benefit them greatly. The only outcome that stands to hurt them would be not allowing them to gain any new ground.