For Gays, Jim Crow May Be Coming To Kansas

Jim Crow, Kansas style. In Kansas, Tea Party Republicans don’t just oppose gay marriage, they also favor a law that would allow business owners to discriminate against gay couples. The following bill is winding its way through the Kansas House of Representatives right now:

Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Kansas:
Section 1. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no individual or religious entity shall be required by any governmental entity to do any of the following, if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender:
(a) Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities,
goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement; […]

In other words, if this becomes law in Kansas, and you are, say, an anti-gay bigot who owns a diner, you can post a “No Gay Couples Served” sign in your restaurant window and deny service to any gay couple who might try to sit at your diner’s counter. It means you can fire gay or lesbian employees if you discover that they date one another after hours.  It means you can refuse a gay couple food, lodging, or employment at your hotel: “Sorry, we don’t serve or employ gay couples here.”

UPDATE: When I initially wrote the above (last week), the bill hadn’t passed the Kansas House of Representatives. I assumed it wouldn’t even get out of committee–and if it did, it couldn’t possibly pass a full chamber vote.

I was wrong. Here’s the latest news on this from Jamelle Bouie at The Daily Beast:

On Wednesday, the Kansas House of Representatives took a step back to the 1890s with a shameful bill that borrows from Jim Crow to legalize discrimination against gay couples. Approved by a vote of 72 to 49, House Bill No. 2453 would allow businesses and government employees to deny service to same-sex couples on the basis of their religious beliefs. The law specifies businesses with “public accommodations,” but—in effect—that covers almost everything.

What does this mean in the real world? If you and your partner want to go buy groceries, but the owner—or manager—doesn’t “agree” with your relationship, they can refuse you service. If you want to go [to] the movies, and the owner decides she’s uncomfortable—she can kick you out. Hotels can deny entry, gyms can deny access, and restaurants can eject you without consequence.

Obviously, some gay couples will want to sue. But under the law, anyone who turns away a gay couple is immune to a civil suit. What’s more, the couple will have to pay their opponents attorney’s fees.

On top of all of this, the bill authorizes anti-gay discrimination by anyone who works for the state of Kansas. Ambulances can refuse to come to the home of a gay couple, park managers can deny them entry, state hospitals can turn them away, and public welfare agencies can decline to work with them.

And Republicans in Kansas control both the Senate and the governorship, so this now has a real chance of becoming law.

Reflection. What does this bill’s progress say about the Republican Party’s future in the 21st century? It is, at least in Kansas, unmistakably giving vent to the worst angels of our nature.

And do Republicans really believe they can win the votes of Millenials–an ever-growing portion of the electorate–by developing a reputation for hating on gay couples?

Look, I get the concern that a religious fundamentalist might not want to make, say, a cake for a gay marriage with two guys put on top of it. That’s an explicit action solicited by the customer. The vendor has a right to decline doing that specific action. He or she didn’t enter business to do this. I get that. I wouldn’t oppose a law that protects the right of a vendor not to actively participate in the lives of a gay couple in this manner.

But when you open a passive storefront, it has to be open to all-comers, period (or you don’t get a business license in your city or state). If you provide a service–rental of a neutral space for parties; lodging; food; a cup of coffee–or you advertise for employment, you don’t get to exclude a class of people from your service. All people share the upkeep of their town or city through their taxes, and that means you can’t enjoy the benefits of gay people’s taxes maintaining the roads that reach your business and then not serve them what you offer to others. That’s Jim Crow, and that’s wrong.

The cake. So let’s go back to the cake. You make cakes, and you accept an order for a cake. Then you discover it will be used for a gay wedding, which you oppose on religious grounds, so you decline to write “Tom and Jim Forever” on the cake and decline to put the two plastic dude-figures-in-tuxes atop it. But your business also sells those little figures and the customer buys two male ones. And you sell frosting, and the customer buys a tube to write Tom and Jim on the cake at the reception hall, which you also own and rent to people for party occasions. So you haven’t participated in, or condoned, Tom and Jim’s gay wedding. But, as local citizens who pay taxes, you’ve made a cake for them–that’s your business–and sold them some items, and rented a room to them (as you would for anybody else). You’ve preserved the exercise of your conscience without making difficult the exercise of theirs.

In this way comes respect all around.

But here’s another alternative. Tom and Jim learn you won’t put gay symbols of any sort on the wedding cakes you make. You’ll make the cake, but not the symbols. But they don’t want to bother with the extra steps to turn their cake “gay,” and so they take their business elsewhere (to an establishment that will make their cake exactly as they want).

Likewise, Jerry and Mary learn you don’t make gay cakes, and they like this about you. They’re bigots. They bring you their business precisely for this reason. The market sorts itself; the market decides.

But soon you develop a general reputation for being an anti-gay establishment, and the majority of people nowadays don’t like people who are anti-gay. So your business goes into a slow but unmistakable decline. After a while, you decide that if you have to choose between shutting down your business and making gay wedding cakes on occasion, you’ll go ahead and make the gay wedding cakes. The religious issue that prompted your initial decision, you decide, is not that big a deal after all.

And this is, of course, a metaphor for the Republican Party in relation to voters. Right now, for Republicans, it’s all about conscience and core principles against gay equality, come hell or high water. But at some point, the customer base–the voter base–will dry up for the Republican Party if it will not moderate itself on this issue. Millenials, who trend liberal and are gay-friendly, will walk away from the Republican Party, and Millenials are the future. The writing is on the wall. A do-or-die existential decision is coming for the Republican Party, but is not yet. Aside from the outright bigotry, that’s what gay Jim Crow in Kansas means. It’s a self-righteous indulgence before a capitulation; the noise before the signal.



UPDATE II: Now that the bill has reached the Kansas Senate, it appears to be dead (at least that’s what The New York Times is reporting). The movement from political indulgence to capitulation went pretty darn fast.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to For Gays, Jim Crow May Be Coming To Kansas

  1. Pingback: What the hell just happened in Kansas? » The Buell Review

  2. Pingback: Get a Free “Open for Business to Everyone!” Sign | Prometheus Unbound

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