Friday, February 28, 2014

Sputtering at Arizona Veto Isn't Helpful

Evangelicals, thou dost protest too much, methinks.

I borrow this phrase from Shakespeare's Hamlet after reading two scathing condemnations of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's veto of SB 1062.  One of them is by World magazine, written by Leigh Jones, and entitled "The Vetoed Bill That Never Existed."  The other, by Jennifer Marshall for the Gospel Coalition (TGC), is entitled "When Tolerance Turns to Coerced Celebration."

Both pieces claim that Arizona's bill wasn't about denying service to gays.  But at the same time, both pieces screech alarms about Christians having to give up their rights for gays.

Frankly, the duplicity on display here is embarrassing.  If Arizona's SB 1062 was merely the i-dotting, t-crossing legal formality to an existing law, like both Jones and Marshall want their readers to think it was, then why are they so upset that it didn't become law?

"Contrary to opponents’ claims," Jones writes for World, "the bill would not have given restaurants or retail stores, businesses open to the general public, the right to refuse to serve gay customers."  And then she goes on to describe how Christian businesses could now be left open to lawsuits by dissatisfied gay customers.

"Minor clarifications to existing law got lost in an avalanche of gross mischaracterization," Marshall writes for TGC, "as national pundits predicted the bill would usher in a 'homosexual Jim Crow' regime with rampant denial of services by business owners to gays and lesbians."

And then she goes on to admit that yes, in fact, "one reason for the clarification was to protect Arizona citizens from the kind of government action brought against Christian businesses elsewhere when they declined to use their talents to celebrate same-sex weddings or commitment ceremonies."

So... which is it?  Was it a bill that never existed, or was it a bill that coerced gay wedding celebrations?  Was it an innocuous bit of legislation, or was vetoing it a horrible miscarriage of religious liberty?

Both writers appear to be basing much of their consternation on the same bit of evidence that was proffered by a group of legal scholars at the 11th hour of Governor Brewer's deliberations over the bill.  That evidence is a letter discussing various aspects of SB 1062's legitimacy as an amendment to Arizona's current Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  But even the authors of that letter admit they didn't all agree on whether the governor should sign it or veto it.

Now, I'm no fan of Governor Brewer.  I'm no fan of any politician.  Neither do I believe Christian business owners should be forced to provide services in the cause of something their faith teaches is morally wrong.  But with all due respect to the people who put SB 1062 together, it was too open-ended and ambiguous regarding its legal ramifications, and the extent to which people could manipulate such ambiguity.  For all of the protestations World and TGC are raising after the fact, claiming that the media distorted the legislation's true nature and intent, it seems even more likely that evangelicals who hoped it would pass are fomenting a similar level of distortion over what its veto means to people of faith in Arizona.

My dear brothers and sister in Christ:  this is a debate for which legislation that is obviously open to interpretation simply cannot suffice.  Isn't it?  Why is that such a hard thing for God's people to admit?

Okay, so now we know what the governor - and a lot of other people, like me, who opposed SB 1062 - are looking for in such legislation.  In their complaints about Governor Brewer's veto, neither Jones nor Marshall really address the fact that one of the primary reasons Brewer ruled against making it law was that SB 1062 was too broadly-worded.  That means we're looking for a fine-tuned statement of protection for people who do not want to be forced into providing a service that conflicts with their religious beliefs.  Going back to the drawing board shouldn't elicit such howls of protest, should it?

If Arizona's lawmakers can't come up with something like that, then we all will have the right to be righteously indignant.  Otherwise, since open-ended ambiguity isn't exactly a hallmark of our faith, why should we get all bent out of shape when open-ended ambiguity haunts laws that get vetoed?

Protesting too much makes us appear to be poor losers.  But losers of what?  SB 1062 wasn't our last stand.  However, it's our integrity that we stand to lose if we keep kicking dust up onto the gay marriage lobby's shoes.

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