It’s gotta be a difficult time for the culture warriors who were deeply invested in the “religious liberty” campaign that hit a land-mine in Arizona this week. The worst part had to be the speed with which Republican pols abandoned the campaign when it lost altitude.
One way out of the kind of bitter intra-communal recriminations that might cause discomfiture later on for the culture warriors to blame somebody else, like that ol’ debbil the Godless Liberal Media. It is hard to imagine a more thorough Blamaganza than that penned by Mollie Hemingway for The Federalist. I made the mistake of reading it, and ten or eleven thousands words later (a remarkable number of them devoted to the alleged deployment of “scare quotes” around terms like “religious liberty”), considered a strategic retreat into bad TV.
But bless her brave soul, Sarah Posner took on Hemingway at Religion Dispatches, and reduced the histronics to something understandable:
Mollie Hemingway, in a fevered jeremiad against the press, accuses reporters of “media malpractice”* for describing Arizona’s SB 1062, vetoed Wednesday night by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, as anti-gay….
Hemingway insists that SB 1062 was a “broad religious liberty bill” that was “renamed by a juvenile and nakedly activist press as ‘anti-gay.’” Given that the bill’s sponsor and supporters have admitted that they were prompted to act by the New Mexico Supreme Court’s decision in the Elane Photography case—where the court ruled that a photographer violated that state’s human rights act by refusing service to a lesbian couple—it seems difficult to conclude that there could be a better description of it. And given that the bill’s supporters couldn’t come up with a single example of how religious liberty had been infringed upon in Arizona so as to require some additional protection of religious liberty rights, it seems that calling it a religious liberty bill was actually the inaccurate descriptor. After all, Arizona already has a Religious Freedom Restoration Act; SB 1062’s supporters even described it as a way of closing that statute’s alleged “loopholes.”
What’s more, since Arizona, unlike its neighbor New Mexico, doesn’t recognize sexual orientation as a protected class in its anti-discrimination laws, all the photographers and bakers and everyone else in Arizona were already perfectly free to turn LGBT people away without legel consequences. In that sense, sure, SB 1062 wasn’t anti-gay, it was double-anti-gay because its sponsors clearly thought the state’s already discriminatory laws were insufficient to protect against the stampede of gay people demanding that business owners engage in the ordinary course of commercial activity with them.
Hemingway’s screed is revealing not just of how she is rending her proverbial garments over the future of the nation (“how long can the Republic stand? Does anyone even care?” are her concluding words). It’s clear that her main complaint is what she sees as the media’s complicity in modernity, which, to her, is itself evidence of their journalistic misconduct.
Bingo. What inspired the Arizona bill to begin with, and what is now inspiring the over-the-top reaction to it in some circles, is an effort to convince people not previously invested in culture war that they had to pick sides—that all those nice people in the pews at Catholic and conservative evangelical pews were threatened by marriage equality as the latest outrage imposed by modernity, against which they needed to fight back.
The reality is that hardly anyone in Arizona is going to be bothered by the veto of SB 1062 or will even remember for long the media coverage that Hemingway views as the death knell of all freedom. And that’s intolerable!
I tweeted the other day that the Arizona debacle was the Terri Schiavo case of this decade: an overreach that exposed the underlying extremism of the Cultural Right. That judgment’s looking stronger every day.
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