May the good ol’ South die a quick death

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

By DAR­IAN AARON daaron@the­

Back in Oct. 2015, I proudly boasted in an ed­i­to­rial that “our state hasn’t turned out to be as big­oted as many ex­pected” fol­low­ing the June 2015 Supreme Court rul­ing that le­gal­ized mar­riage equal­ity na­tion­wide. It ap­peared I’d spo­ken too soon un­til Gov. Deal an­nounced his in­tent to veto House Bill 757 on March 28, thereby slightly re­deem­ing the faith I’d lost in south­ern pol­i­tics. Since the be­gin­ning of the 2016 leg­isla­tive ses­sion, Repub­li­can state law­mak­ers have been em­broiled in an at­tempt to cod­ify dis­crim­i­na­tion into law and to up­hold the long­stand­ing rep­u­ta­tion of Ge­or­gia and the South as a hot­bed for big­otry and dis­crim­i­na­tion.

House Bill 757, or the Pas­tor Pro­tec­tion Act or the First Amend­ment De­fense Act or the Free Ex­er­cise Pro­tec­tion Act, what­ever name its au­thors de­cided to use as the bill worked its way through both cham­bers, once again placed Ge­or­gia in the spot­light for all the wrong rea­sons and threat­ened the eco­nomic prow­ess of the “Hol­ly­wood of the South,” not to men­tion some of the most vul­ner­a­ble cit­i­zens in our state who do not have the lux­ury of be­ing in­cluded as a pro­tected class---those who iden­tify as LGBT.

The Repub­li­can pro­po­nents of HB 757 wanted noth­ing more than to con­vince the pub­lic that this bill and their decades-long cul­ture war against the LGBT com­mu­nity and any group or idea that didn’t align it­self with a nar­row Chris­tian world view wouldn’t be sub­ject to dis­crim­i­na­tion. In fact, their talk­ing points sug­gested that so-called “re­li­gious free­dom” leg­is­la­tion was a nec­es­sary com­pro­mise to pro­tect both the LGBT com­mu­nity and peo­ple of faith (i.e. Chris­tians—other faiths con­tinue to re­main an af­ter­thought) with “sin­cerely held re­li­gious be­liefs.”

Make no mis­take about it, HB 757 and other “re­li­gious free­dom” leg­is­la­tion that has popped up across the coun­try is a di­rect re­sponse to the suc­cess of the LGBT equal­ity move­ment in Amer­ica. When a large seg­ment of so­ci­ety be­comes ac­cus­tomed to priv­i­lege, equal­ity be­gins to feel like op­pres­sion. Con­trary to what some Chris­tians would have you be­lieve, Chris­tian­ity is not un­der at­tack, nor are gay and les­bian cou­ples in ac­tive pur­suit of big­oted min­is­ters to of­fi­ci­ate one of the most im­por­tant events in their lives by forc­ing clergy to com­ply through court or­der. Fear and hy­po­thet­i­cal ‘what if ’ sce­nar­ios are a tool of the right wing and a scare tac­tic that is in­creas­ingly be­ing seen for ex­actly what it is by an evolv­ing Amer­i­can pop­u­lous. Sadly, south­ern law­mak­ers con­tinue to cling to any pos­si­ble rem­nant of the old South where women were seen and not heard, blacks knew their place and LGBT peo­ple were deeply clos­eted with no hopes of mov­ing be­yond sec­ond-class cit­i­zen­ship.

The good ol’ days of the South for white, het­ero­sex­ual, Chris­tian men and the hor­ror for any­one else out­side of what has proven in many ways to be a tainted trin­ity is over. Any at­tempt to halt cul­tural progress in Ge­or­gia or in any other state is cer­tain to be met with fierce op­po­si­tion.

I agree with les­bian state Rep. Karla Dren­ner (D-Avon­dale Es­tates), who dur­ing a re­cent press con­fer­ence with other LGBT leg­is­la­tors op­pos­ing HB 757 said, “When we al­low dis­crim­i­na­tion in any form we can no longer call our­selves free, be­cause some of us are not. Free­dom is an all-or-noth­ing prin­ci­ple. There are no shades of lib­erty.”

A de­ci­sion by Gov. Deal to sign HB 757 into law would have not only been eco­nom­i­cally dis­as­trous for our state, it would have reaf­firmed our rep­u­ta­tion as a place where there is no short­age of peo­ple of faith that pub­licly ab­hor sin, but con­sis­tently and hyp­o­crit­i­cally sup­port hate­ful leg­is­la­tion as God’s will for his peo­ple. The ob­vi­ous dis­con­nect be­tween the be­lief in Chris­tian val­ues and the fail­ure of Ge­or­gia law­mak­ers and their con­stituents who sup­port HB 757 to ex­em­plify the spirit of Christ couldn’t be more glar­ing. It’s an ob­ser­va­tion Gov. Deal ad­dressed dur­ing his veto speech to a po­lit­i­cal party that is de­ter­mined to use the Bi­ble in­stead of the Con­sti­tu­tion to leg­is­late.

“I do not think we have to dis­crim­i­nate against any­one to pro­tect the faith based com­mu­nity in Ge­or­gia of which my fam­ily and I are a part of for all of our lives. Our ac­tions on HB 757 are not just about pro­tect­ing the faith-based com­mu­nity or pro­vid­ing a busi­ness-friendly cli­mate for job growth in Ge­or­gia. This is about the char­ac­ter of our state and the char­ac­ter of its peo­ple,” said Deal.

In­deed. Today, I’m proud of Gov. Deal for mak­ing the right de­ci­sion. How­ever, the fight is not over on ei­ther side; we’re just get­ting started. But what­ever hap­pens next, we in the LGBT com­mu­nity must al­ways cham­pion free­dom over dis­crim­i­na­tion, equal­ity over big­otry and progress over stag­na­tion.

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