By EMILY HOLLINGSWORTH
The Huffington Post reported on March 10 that Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota, while a guest on radio host Lars Larson’s program, spoke about SB 1062, the controversial Arizona bill that was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer last month. The bill would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gay customers on the basis of religious freedom.
Bachmann stated, “There’s nothing about gays in there. But the gay community decided to make this their measure…I think the thing that is getting a little tiresome, the gay community, they have so bullied the American people, and they’ve so intimidated politicians. The politicians fear them, so that they think they get to dictate the agenda everywhere.”
Bachmann is arguing that people in the gay and lesbian community are choosing to construe a bill that does not openly discriminate against as threat to their liberty. As a result, they are using coercive, intimidating practices in order to eliminate the perceived danger.
It is interesting that Bachmann does not give specifics as to how or when this particular community used intimidating tactics to bully politicians or other Americans.
What stood out the most, however, was her initial argument: the Arizona bill does not label the gay and lesbian community as inferior or open them to discrimination; that is only how they choose to interpret it.
Her argument is reminiscent of the statement made by Justice Henry Brown over one hundred years ago during the historic Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson.
To justify segregation laws against African Americans, Brown claimed that “we consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a brand of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construct upon it.”
Though Brown and Bachmann’s claims span decades and discuss two different issues, their fallible arguments and the prejudices behind them remain very much the same.
It is easier to assert that a minority or a certain group of couple are misconstruing a law rather than taking the time to understand how a law could violate their basic rights. It is easier to believe that gay or lesbian persons are bullying American people or politicians rather than coming to the uncomfortable conclusion that, through the laws that are being put into place, or even the language that is used to describe the gay community, that we as a country are the ones who bully the gay and lesbian community.
Even in Bachmann claiming that the gay community “bullied the American people,” her language reflects the idea that the gay community is outside of the collective body known as the American people; that they are somehow different than Americans who are not gay or lesbian.
Even if her language was not meant to be malicious, the idea she presents is that people who identify as LGBT are somehow not as much of an American citizen as others.
Whether it is the year 1896 or 2014, every person deserves the freedom of unalienable rights. When potential laws threaten these rights, they need to be examined by those who will validate the concerns of minority groups.
Those like Bachmann who disagree with the views held by minority groups need to respond sensitively to their concerns.