In 1876, the Jim Crow laws took effect in many southern US states. Until 1965, these laws allowed the discrimination of African American citizens and laws followed the ideas of “separate but equal.”
African Americans were forced to sit at the back of the bus, and many followed the lead of Rosa Parks and retaliated. Restaurants would not allow seating in certain areas, and some businesses would refuse service to all African Americans. Segregation was apparent everywhere in the South, and it fueled the battle for equality.
Many people, both black and white, fought for this equality. With the work of National Association of Advancement for Colored People (NAACP) and activists like Martin Luther King Jr., the laws were eventually overturned but not without bloodshed and death.
As we approach 50 years after, the Arizona government seems to be attempting to repeat history. Senate Bill 1062 was introduced by Sen. Steve Yarbrough to amend a law currently giving religious assemblies or institutions a religious exemption from any law. The Arizona government passed the bill with a 17-13 vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.
With the passing of this bill, businesses would be allowed to refuse any service based on religion and protected religious disapproval of same-sex marriage. Passing of Bill 1062 means that any business could refuse service to Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) consumers. Arizona businesses could require that services given to LGBT customers be different than those provided to heterosexual customers. The bill also allowed for restaurants to require LGBT individuals to dine in designated areas of the restaurant, much like the Jim Crow laws allowed against African Americans.
Those supporting the bill claim the bill is meant to support the First Amendment with the freedom of religion. However, those protesting the bill are sensing some similarities to the Civil Rights Movement in the middle of the twentieth century.
These actions have shown that it has become apparent that the Arizona State Senate does not remember the outcome of the activists back then. The Senate is promoting discrimination and has targeted the LGBT community.
The difference between then and now is the presence of the mass media. It did not take long for word to get out and for the Senate to realize the mistakes it was making. People across the country became outraged with the idea, and protesting began at the start of 2014 before the bill had even passed. However, the outrage increased after the bill passed in February.
For those who recall what they have learned in history courses, it has become apparent that the Senate needs to reread its 4th grade history book. These senators seem to think they would be able to get away with such discrimination. LGBT Arizonians are consumers just like any other Arizonian. The LGBT community spends money at stores, and its members eat food at restaurants just like heterosexual Arizonians.
Although the fact that the LGBT community spends billions of dollars in Arizona each year did not dawn on the Senate until after passing the bill, the idea did not occur to any of those voting yes. The question is, what exactly were they thinking?
Allowing such businesses to discriminate could have potentially caused an issue with the Arizona economy. The idea became a joke for satirical columnist and comedian Andy Borowitz who published “ARIZONA CONFRONTING AWKWARD REALIZATION THAT GAY PEOPLE HAVE MONEY, BUY STUFF” in his blog “The Borowitz Report” as part of his writing for “The New Yorker.”
The National Football League even threatened to pull Super Bowl XLIX and move to a different state. Delta Air Lines announced that it would consider removing any business from the state and would not allow any planes to land within the state. Other large businesses, including Apple, American Airlines, AT&T, and Intel voiced opposition to the bill and also expressed concerns.
A Tucson pizza shop, Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria, received attention for opposing the bill and putting up a sign saying the restaurant reserves the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators. Luckily enough for Arizona’s economy and the Pizzeria, Sen. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill on Wednesday, Feb. 26.
Sen. Brewer stated, “To the supporters of the legislation, I want you to know that I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before. Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes. However, I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want. Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value. So is non-discrimination.”
There is much Americans can learn from the issues arising around Bill 1062. A few of these lessons include, but are not limited to, the definition of equality, practicing the right to vote for better legislation, and where the economy stands on legislators’ list of priorities. One hopes a few elementary school teachers will reeducate them on the mistakes made by past U.S. government officials in the South.