Some may balk when the struggle for equality for gays is described as the 21st century equivalent of the Civil Rights movement, but analogies are hard to avoid when a state passes a law permitting businesses to refuse service to homosexuals. The bill sits figuratively on the desk of Gov. Brewer of Arizona, who finds herself pressured to sign by her state's Republican base, who consider Sen. McCain too liberal for them, and pressured to veto by much of the rest of the country, including large corporations who hint at boycotting the state if she signs. The odds now seem to favor a veto, the governor putting business (including a future Super Bowl) over her base. If so, let that be a lesson to the religious right for continuing to assume that a common antipathy toward godless Marxism makes them and capitalists natural allies. The bill has been portrayed as a religious-freedom measure. In effect, it would exempt from litigation any business refusing service to gays -- or, more likely, to gay wedding planners -- due to religious objections. Thus bigotry wraps the First Amendment around itself. If the governor signs the bill, I'd look forward to a legal challenge. Since the bill implies that some religions compel adherents to oppose gay marriage by having nothing to do with it on a commercial level, I'd like to see it proven whether any religion actually imposes a duty not to facilitate gay marriage. In the absence of such a commandment, a court should identify explicit refusal of service -- the bill presumably entitles businesses to state their reason for refusing service -- as an act of "conscience" rather than a religious duty. Some people confuse the two concepts, but in a case like this we should insist on a religious test, and unless the pertinent scripture compels refusal of service in plain language the unlucky wedding planner who has but one caterer or photographer or tuxedo rental within reach should be invited to sue away.
Uganda makes Arizona's homophobia look wimpy. President Musaveni has just signed legislation imposing life prison terms for gays who dare to marry or even act on their inclinations. Musaveni no doubt won many new American fans with an unapologetic CNN interview in which he described homosexuality as "disgusting" and claimed that Uganda had been innocent of the practice before western imperialism. A local paper has fanned the fresh flames by publishing a purported list of prominent Ugandan homosexuals. The U.S. has denounced Uganda's action and some European countries reportedly are reevaluating their financial aid to the country. This is the latest chapter in a reversal of affections that leaves conservative Americans looking to Africa for spiritual guidance and the cultural left probably (but probably not publicly) condemning homophobic Africans as primitive barbarians. It also returns us to the question of linkage between diplomacy and human rights. Uganda's action, echoed by different degrees of anti-gay legislation in Russia, India and elsewhere, as well as in the U.S., should offend any fair-minded person on the planet. But is that offense sufficient justification for changing the terms of trade or aid between a relatively liberal nation and a homophobic one? Given the supposed mercantile motives at play in Ukraine recently, it's hard to believe that any country would give up trade with another because of the other's treatment of any minority, especially when the west remains concerned with China's success at no-questions-asked diplomacy in the Third World. The Ugandan example forces a different question on Americans than the internal affair in Arizona: is our liberal government's commitment to gay rights worth alienating other countries? Are Uganda's homosexuals more important than any benefit the U.S. or any liberal western nation derives from dealings with Uganda? Similar questions were answered in the affirmative when the subject was South Africa under apartheid in the 1980s. If the struggle with American homophobia is our equivalent of the Civil Rights movement, is the struggle with global homophobia the moral equivalent of the international anti-apartheid movement? There's an easy idealist answer, but there's also a pragmatic answer taking into account that, whether we like it or not, there are many more people in the world committed to homophobia, and obviously in many more countries, than there were whites committed to apartheid. Millions of people around the world see the gay-rights movement as yet another form of cultural imperialism and resent it. Whatever the objective justice in the case, these millions (or billions) don't want the U.S. dictating to them yet again. It certainly can be frustrating, but unlike the frustration liberals feel when foreign leaders treat dissidents rough, there's an convenient outlet for your frustration right at home -- or there will be if Gov. Brewer signs that bill.