I was only a toddler when the U.S Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools. I have no memory of the ruling and its aftermath. But I have long heard about the historic decision – among the most important in the court’s history – and the strong, sometimes violent reaction to it.
I learned about how there were loud protests in the South, about how black students were jeered and taunted and even attacked when they arrived on a “white” campus. I heard and read about schools and communities trying to defy the new law, like school districts suddenly claiming to be private or just ceasing to exist. I understood that school desegregation didn’t happen overnight, that it took years to implement and achieve.
The same is happening more or less in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court’s ruling that said that gay marriage can’t be banned anywhere in the U.S. This isn’t or shouldn’t be surprising. What is perhaps surprising is how the angry, defiant reaction is more subtle and sneaky.
Yes, there has been a county clerk or two or three refusing to give marriage certificates to same-sex couples, but there haven’t been mobs blocking church doors and throwing rocks at gay newlyweds as they leave the church.
Perhaps there were more subtle reactions to the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that I’m overlooking or that I haven’t read about, but what we’re seeing in the wake of the gay marriage ruling is more along the lines of bakers refusing to bake cakes and photographers refusing to take pictures for same-sex weddings – or at least trying to.
And this is being done, we’re told, not as a protest against gay people but to protect religious rights, religious freedom. We are told that providing services at gay weddings and the like means that people have to do things that go against their beliefs and religion. Laws are being enacted, as in North Carolina, that allow people to refuse to provide services that violate their religious beliefs.
This is tricky stuff. Being able to act or not act on one’s religious beliefs – religious freedom – is really important. As a Quaker, I cherish the ability not to take part or contribute to warfare. But when I carry out this freedom, I’m not hurting anyone or denying the rights of others. It is hard to think that these new state laws, which have been implemented in varying degrees of success and often resisted, including with boycotts, are not a sneaky way to deny gay people their rights.
All the more so when the new laws go out of the way to make a point of doing so. For example, the North Carolina law prohibits local ordinances, such as one enacted in Charlotte, against anti-gay discrimination. What’s more, these laws often encroach into areas that have nothing to do with gay marriage. Many, including the one in North Carolina, even after some tweaking in response to public outcry and boycotts and that many LGBT advocates called insubstantial and the Democratic attorney general, Roy Cooper, labeled “a day late and a veto short,” require transgender people to use the public restrooms and locker rooms that match the gender on their birth certificates.
This battle over bathrooms and which ones transgender people can use is particularly telling. It’s as if the anti-LGBT folks said that if they can’t save marriage, they’ll go after bathrooms. It is argued that these restroom laws are to protect privacy.
But I think a comment made by North Carolina Republican State Senate Leader Phil Berger reveals what the restroom laws and also the religious freedom laws are all about. He criticized Atty. Gen. Cooper and the “left-wing political correctness mob…who will never stop trashing North Carolina until they achieve their goal of allowing any man into any women’s bathroom or locker room at any time simply by claiming to feel like a woman.”
Yep, that’s an actual quote from a state senator. Sure, these people would love to go out and block church doors and riot over same-sex newlyweds, but they’ve grown to be too sophisticated and smart for that.