Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tyranny of the Minority

Earlier this month, Hawaii Representative Jo Jordan, a gay woman who does not hide her sexual identity from her constituents, voted against marriage equality in Hawaii. She did so even though, by her own admission, she has no “conviction” on the matter. In one interview, she revealed that she believes, as a gay woman, she should have the right to marry, but emphasized that she never set out to be a spokesperson for an LGBT constituency nor is that her job. She explained that she sympathizes with the religious fervor opposed to marriage equality in Hawaii and that she wants to vote for a bill that will stand the judicial tests ahead.

Some of Representative Jordan’s reservations may have to do with the exemptions and exceptions that will almost certainly become part of Hawaii’s law. These include religious sensibilities. For example, the House’s response to the Hawaiian Senate bill added a provision to exempt ministers from being held liable if they refuse to perform a marriage ceremony for a gay couple. Other amendments that did not pass after more than eight hours of debate include allowing parents to exempt their children from sex education if it promotes LGBT marriage, protects businesses from being forced to employ LGBT employees, and grants religious institutions the right to discriminate against LGBT citizens.


The spirit behind these amendments is not unique to Hawaii. An Oklahoma-based company, Hobby Lobby, has sued for the right not to provide employee health coverage that includes the so-called morning after pill because the owners, David Green, wife, and family, claim Right to Life religious conviction. The Greens have subsequently used the Citizens United decision to explain that a corporation’s First Amendment guarantees should not exclude religious expression and that the Affordable Care Act mandate regarding contraception that facilitates aborting an egg, fertilized or not, implanted or not, is unconstitutional as it restricts the Greens’ freedom to exercise their religious convictions.

What these two seemingly disparate legal debates have in common is religious conviction. The Greens of Hobby Lobby and Hawaii’s anti-marriage equality forces believe that no individual should be required by law to support any policy, law, order, or civil code that violates his or her personal convictions. If this religious right is upheld across the land, then let us all beware.

None will be safe from religious intolerance in the name of religious conviction. At one time early in this nation, founders believed that the Native Americans were godless heathens, exceptions on this earth, forsaken by a European god.  This rationale allowed colonists to seize land and slaughter entire communities, then thank God for His protection afterward. Similar unfounded sentiments were held against African-Americans. As Harper Lee notes in To Kill a Mockingbird, a fictionalized account of racism in Alabama, the founders failed to note biblical admonitions against holding human life as property, defending their rights and superiority with other scripture and theology.

Religious divisions are central to understanding Afghanistan and Iraq. Tribal interpretations of Islam place the Sunnis and Shi’ites at odds, one suppressing the other, one even trying to exterminate the other. Religious intolerance was a factor in Hitler’s methods to divide and conquer a country, then the world.

By logical extension, if Hawaii’s exemptions hold through judicial tests and the Greens prevail in their lawsuit, then any individual may oppose government. I may righteously refuse to pay taxes that go to making war for verily, I doth not believe that boys and girls should be uprooted, taken from their homes, and taught to kill. I would ask that my tax dollars be diverted to exploring the final frontiers, specifically the oceans and space. Verily do I know and can declare with supporting evidence that NASA and scientific inquiry stimulate our economy and create jobs. I would also demand that attention be paid to protecting clean water, clean air, and solid ground for the benefit of all to come after me for I believe in good stewardship, not just by tithing ten percent of my net worth to a church, but by committing to protect this planet upon which I happen to be. Aware that this would require corporations to spend some of their profits on research, development, and retooling, I would still insist even if those corporations turn down their lucrative tax breaks and subsidies in an effort to deny government oversight. I have faith that the temporary unsettled effects could be overcome so fare thee well, I say.

Perhaps more important, I would refuse to participate until and unless my tax dollars went to alleviate suffering here at home. No American citizen should lack for shelter, adequate food, and clean water. That is my most deeply held personal conviction.

So beware, Hawaii and David Green. Be careful what you ask for; it may actually set precedents that will unlock Pandora’s box of individual freedoms. What would the world look like if I refused to grant you the same rights that I claim for myself. Methinks, verily, that be anarchy.