IT IS truly jarring that Easter and Passover—spiritual celebrations of redemption and freedom —follow within days of the revolting passage in Indiana of a state law allowing businesses the "religious liberty" to openly discriminate against gays and lesbians.
In an odd way, it makes those holy days all the more fraught with meaning.
As we go to press, Georgia’s own version of this odious legislation was dying a deserved death by asphyxiation in committee. However, as with most evil things, it’s hard to kill and it ain’t dead yet, so stay tuned.
Georgia may have dodged a bullet mostly because Indiana was so quick to jump in front of one.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence—hilariously, once considered serious presidential material in the Republican Party—signed the bill with smug pomp, only to discover within hours that a massive backlash was in store.
Some high-profile concerns based in Indiana, such as the $4 billion software firm Salesforce, announced they’d consider leaving the state, taking their jobs with them.
Others, like the hugely powerful NCAA, came under enormous pressure to also leave, or at the very least, boycott Indiana from any further national tournaments.
It could have been us. Luckily for Georgia, we have something no one else has: Atlanta. A city big enough and dynamic enough for its business interests to have little truck with foolishness of this nature.
Since the days of Ivan Allen, William Hartsfield, and Robert Woodruff, Atlanta has a tradition of activist business and political leaders who quickly take the reins when Georgia’s more retrograde bigoted side threatens to show its ugly face to the world.
(They were more concerned with money than morals, you say? Certainly a bit of both. People are complicated like that.)
Add in the fact that Atlanta is one of America’s most gay-friendly cities, and the smart bet is that Georgia’s “religious liberty” bill won’t see the light of day.
Of equal concern in the long run is the deep disconnect in this country between religious folk and young people.
The Millennial generation isn’t only the largest generation in American history. They are by far the most atheist/agnostic in American history as well, forcefully rejecting religion in droves—no doubt driven away by the sheer ugliness of the most conservative of American religious people.
This complete mismatch of moral priorities has enormous ramifications for future American politics. And conservatives have missed that bus entirely, as they, like Gov. Pence, are belatedly discovering.
It’s a subject of personal concern as well.
I’m neither atheist nor agnostic myself, but as an alt-weekly editor I primarily work with and talk to young liberals, most of whom never darken the door of any church—unless it’s maybe to catch an Americana show at Trinity UMC.
Occasionally I try and convince them that religion is one of the deepest impulses of humanity, and that virtually every major accomplishment in human history—in art, in science, in philosophy, in technology, in exploration—has occurred within the framework of some societal construct acknowledging a higher power.
That religion in a very real sense is the ultimate driver of civilization.
It usually doesn’t work. Mostly I have to shrug and accept that the ugly side of religion has poisoned the well, and that these young people are, barring a major life change, unreachable by any church.
And given abominations like the “religious liberty” bill, it’s hard to argue with them.
But there are silver linings to these recent developments. On a minor note, for one day out of the year the internet took a break from bashing the South, turning its disapproving digital Eye of Sauron on a state north of the Mason-Dixon line for once.
Much more importantly, we should take heart from the instant, loud chorus of disapproval directed toward Indiana. This hubbub, both in quantity and quality, is a most encouraging sign for the future.
Never forget that a scant decade ago George W. Bush won reelection largely on the strength of gay-bashing ballot initiatives in key states.
Those referenda against gay marriage—strategically launched in Electoral College swing states like Ohio—were intended to boost the turnout of religious conservatives in the 2004 election against John Kerry.
They worked like a charm, and the rest, unfortunately, is history.
But whatever happens next, the old ways are dying. Not fast enough, but as sure as the sun will come out Easter morning, The Age of Ascendant Bigotry is over.
During this Holy Week to come, that’s something we can all celebrate, whether we’re believers or not. cs