Posts Tagged ‘Personal Freedom’

Arizona Allows Shops to Refuse Gays – Others Could Soon Suffer

February 27, 2014

There was a headline on MSN News yesterday that Arizona had passed a law allowing shops to refuse to serve gays. This is extremely ominous, not just for gay people, but for other minority groups, including Blacks. Despite the considerable liberalisation of attitudes towards homosexuality and gays over the past forty years or so since the Stonewall riots in America, homosexuality is still extremely controversial even over this side of the Atlantic. A friend surprised me a few years ago by pointing out just how many US states still have laws banning sodomy. These laws not only prohibit homosexuality, but also certain forms of heterosexual sex.

For many people, this is simply a moral issue without any connection to the wider issue of gender, ethnic or religious equality. They see homosexuality and homosexuals as deeply immoral, and clearly want the right to refuse to serve them. It’s a view shared by many over this side of the Atlantic. However, it also has profound and deeply disturbing implications for other groups.

The ideology behind the move appears to me to be not just hostility to gays, but also an attempt to appeal to the issue of personal freedom. Homosexuals are not banned from being served in shops in Arizona, the proponents of the law would argue. It’s just that they’ve given shopkeepers the right and freedom to refuse to serve them.

It’s a right that I’m afraid will be used to justify the passage of laws allowing shopkeepers and employers to refuse to serve and take on other groups, such as those of a different ethnicity or religion. And this is being argued for.

A year or so ago the transatlantic Right were trying to rehabilitate George Wallace, the pro-segregation American politicians left in a wheelchair after an assassination attempt. They argued that despite his support for segregation, Wallace himself was not personally racist. They stated that he was a member of NAACP – the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, one of the major American Civil Rights organisations. They stated that he was one of the first to end segregation in his department store and open it up equally to both Whites and Blacks. His resistance to the end of segregation, it was claimed, came from his belief that the passage of laws demanding the equal treatment of White and Black would be an attack on personal freedom. The argument runs that he wasn’t racist, worked to end racism, but respected the rights of others to be racist in their own business. A similar argument could be used to justify the new law allowing shops to refuse to serve gays.

Other sections of the American right are using similar arguments against Abraham Lincoln and his liberation of the slaves. Guy Debord’s Cat has covered this development in the American extreme Right over on his blog on one of his posts on the weird mental world inhabited by some of the commenters on the Telegraph blogs. Again, there is a serious, respectable historiographical issue concerning Lincoln’s attitude to the slaves. Rather than being a hero of the anti-slavery movement, Lincoln was, it has been argued, personally deeply racist and quite prepared to sacrifice the slaves if it would mean holding the US together. He only liberated the slaves at the very last moment as an attempt to undermine the South. Furthermore, it has been argued, no slaves were actually freed as a result of his legislation.

To many of those on the Right, however, Lincoln is a figure of hate not because of his highly questionable and ambivalent attitude to slavery, but because he passed legislation banning it. This is viewed very much as an attack on personal freedom and the sanctity of private property, and so he has been denounced in some quarters as a ‘Socialist’. It’s a view and argument very much that of the opponents of anti-slavery legislation throughout the world at the time. It’s horrifying that such views are being advanced now.

The Arizona law against gays presents a terrible danger, not just to gays, but also to the whole notion of equality as it has developed since the mid-19th century. There is a real danger of similar legislation being passed allowing the discrimination and subjection of others, whether on the basis of their race or religious beliefs, apart from their sexual orientation. And it will be supported by people claiming not to support racism or religious discrimination personally, but simply defending the personal freedom of those, who are. And that really will be a form of ‘liberal Fascism’, regardless of how Jonah Goldberg and the rest of the American Right feel about the Left.

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