Will religious conservatives never learn? You watch them and you cringe. It plays out just like it did in the classic tale of the Great Pumpkin, and the Thanksgiving special, and once almost every fall in the print run of the Peanuts comic strip. You hope against hope that Charlie Brown isn't going to fall for the trickery of that crafty Lucy Van Pelt another time. You scream at your television (always a productive thing to do): "Come on, man! Wake up!" But your cries go unheeded. And he ends up flat on his back. Again. And that's exactly what happened to religious conservatives in Arizona when Governor Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062, a bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse service or otherwise discriminate if their actions derived from a "sincerely held religious belief."
Let's start with the setup. Religious conservatives make the case that the conservative movement should take their priorities seriously. Ryan T. Anderson, William E. Simon Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, makes an impassioned plea along those lines, which was published late last year. He cites a study from another conservative advocacy group showing that religious/social conservative positions are popular, and declares: "a unified platform of social and economic conservatism is a winning electoral strategy." Leaving aside whether that's actually true, what's most relevant to the discussion of the Arizona law is what Anderson had to say about same-sex marriage.
After some claptrap about how government should "[allow] autonomous adults to act without government interference," Anderson then gives us the classic: "Won't someone please think about the children?!" lament. Never mind that conservatives don't explain how banning same-sex marriage actually helps a child. Anderson's implication is that limiting marriage to a man and a woman will somehow create more heterosexual parents (as LGBT folks throw up their hands and turn straight?) Anyway, as I said, it's claptrap. In conclusion, Anderson calls on Republicans to "stand on principle with respect to social issues... We should present an 'indivisible' conservative vision." Indivisible. That works for economic conservatives, at least so long as it doesn't cost businesses any money.
To return just for a second to the content of the arguments in favor of the Arizona law (and ones like it in Kansas, as well as Oklahoma, Missouri and Mississippi, and other states), the proponents love to talk about their freedom of association and their religious liberty. The head of National Organization for Marriage said the fight is about the First Amendment, and isn't "somebody adhering to old Jim Crow lunch-counter discrimination."
See, the thing is, that's exactly what it's about, at least morally speaking. There's the part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that outlaws discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color and national origin in "public accommodations," i.e., businesses. That's how the law made it illegal for Woolworth's to refuse service to black people under Jim Crow. Unfortunately, the 1964 Act doesn't protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation, and neither does current Arizona law. That's why another step in the fight for equality is to pass laws that do ban such discrimination.
You know what, the image below says it much better than I can.
On a tangential note, you may remember that the "public accommodations" part of the Civil Rights Act is what tripped up Sen. Rand Paul. It's also why right-wing media star John Stossel called for that part of the law to be repealed, saying: "Private businesses ought to get to discriminate."
Back to Arizona. So after SB1062 passed the state House and Senate with only Republican votes, the pressure began to bear down on Gov. Brewer. Three of the Republican senators who had voted yes said: "Oops, my bad," and asked for a take back, or, as a fallback option, for Brewer to come to their rescue and veto the bill. Then the business community weighed in, as negative reactions flowed from giants such as Apple and JP Morgan Chase, as well as Arizona based companies like GoDaddy and PetSmart. There was talk that the NFL was considering moving the 2015 Super Bowl out of Arizona, something the NFL had done once before, when that state refused to officially recognize Martin Luther King Day as a holiday. All those dollar signs. So Gov. Brewer took out her veto pen.
The religious conservatives were apoplectic. Pat Buchanan lamented the death of freedom. Pundit Ben Shapiro wondered what the Republican party even stands for when it "stands against religious freedom out of pure fear of political correctness." Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council had this to say: "By vetoing this bill, Gov. Brewer is saying she supports government discrimination against people's religious freedoms."
True believers on the right really do embody the spirit of the Confederacy. They love lost causes. Pickett's Charge remains the gold standard for the hard right in general. If you can't win, charge ahead anyway with your unsheathed swords gleaming in the sun. Run right into the lines of the enemy, even if it's a suicide mission. Well, the Chamber of Commerce folks aren't suicidal.
The question is, when will these religious conservatives learn? Look at the big picture. Yes, George W. Bush spoke their language, and yes, his party pushed state laws banning gay marriage -- when they were popular -- but what were his real domestic priorities as president? What did he push at the federal level? Cutting taxes for the rich. For the leaders among religious conservatives, that may have been just fine, given that they are, well, rich guys. But when will the rank and file religious conservatives -- the people who, whatever their reasons, really do believe this stuff and look to the Republican party to act on their principles -- finally realize that the GOP will always choose the almighty dollar over them when push comes to shove?
Here's what it comes down to: When a conservative Republican governor vetoes a "religious liberty" bill passed by a conservative Republican legislature because the business community tells her to, it shows who really calls the shots on the right.