A funny thing happened on the way to Equality. Several states rapidly construed modern-day Jim Crow laws cleverly framed in the name of preserving religious freedom, Arizona receiving the most attention. This is an angle I think could have had some legs had the legislators been less rushed, less careless, and less confident that their own bigotry was the majority opinion in their state. Instead they overreached, mistakenly thinking not being a card-carrying GLBT ally inferred sympathy for extreme backlash legislation.
Arizona governor Jan Brewer, hardly known as a liberal and on the record as opposing same-sex marriage, wisely vetoed the law. This led to some of the most hilarious parody pieces ever. These are awesome, but I have also observed a strange need to diminish or explain away the Governor’s rightful use of the power of the veto: “it was because the NFL threatened to leave” “it was because she had a change of heart” “it was because she wants to run for reelection” “it was because she was terrified of tourist boycotts” or, most commonly, “it’s because she realized it’s become bad for business to be a bigot“.
Truthfully, it was probably a combination of all the above. But how much does it matter? What is it with this idea of constantly obsessing over “how heartfelt was it?” on political maneuvers? Haven’t they always been complicated? I can’t help but feel that with each gay political victory Sally Field’s (misquoted) 1984 Oscar acceptance speech “you LIKE me you really LIKE me!” is the knee-jerk reaction. Or, more dangerously, a smirk of inevitability. But suddenly the figure of Jan Brewer makes that a bit more complicated. A certain amount of this is expected. If reduced to same-sex marriage you can see the movement is quite literally still in adolescence. In 2000 Netherlands became the first nation to do full-blown marriage equality, Canada in 2005 nationwide, the first US State (MA) only in 2004 (and still not nationwide). A little self-involved adolescent narcissism can be overlooked, maturity mellows feelings. And that’s okay.
Many people might still harbor vague ethnic stereotypes toward Jewish Americans (“they control Hollywood“, “they care too much about Israel and not enough about the USA“) but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who held those feelings who actually would support a no-Jews-allowed policy at a hotel or restaurant. Of course there will never be a complete absence of gay prejudice or negative preconceptions, but what’s arrived is an overwhelming majority consensus that any sort of legislation that prescribes it is shameful and retrograde. As with all civil rights struggles this has been achieved through legitimate and sincere changing of hearts and minds, some mild social shaming, and a little economic blackmail. And that’s okay.
There will always be a certain segment of the population (for argument let’s say 25%) who feels homosexuality in unequivocally wrong for religious reasons. There is also another section of the population (I’ll guess another 25%) who will range from clumsily practical (“those gays are good for business“), to completely ambivalent, to annoyed and begrudged (“I’m sick of hearing about gay people all the time, where’s my fucking Pride Parade?!”). What the anti-gay Republican legislators misjudged in Arizona is assuming that the latter group would always be in passive agreement with the former group when it came to actual NEW law and not merely preserving tradition. The unlikely figure of Governor Jan Brewer represents that break. And that’s okay.