Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Kill Bill - Don't Let Louisiana Legalize Discrimination

We're friends, right? I like to think so. So, in that vein, I'd like you to help me commit murder. I wouldn't ask if it weren't important, and let me tell you why.

If you know me, you know I'm from Louisiana, and when I say "from", I mean it. My mama's family settled the area around Natchitoches, LA in the 1760's and we've been there ever since. All of my plays are set in Louisiana, and deal with themes important in the state. I premiered the UPSTAIRS musical in New Orleans and traveled to Lafayette for a recent production.

Now, remember that "religious freedom" bill that almost legalized discrimination in Indiana? Well Bobby Jindal's throwing his support behind House Bill 707 in Louisiana, the "Marriage and Conscience Act", a more virulent strain of the legislation that outraged America only weeks ago. Right now, this bill is sitting in committee while Louisiana deals with a terrible budget shortfall and other important bits of legislation, but the fight over HB 707 is coming soon--and it's a fight I'm scared to death we will lose.

Spiritually, emotionally, financially, and artistically, I can't afford to cut Louisiana out of my life, and I shouldn't have to. So let's you and me kill that bill it in committee.

This means you. Yes you. If you're from Louisiana, been to Louisiana, live in Louisiana, or you're just thinking of going there, this matters and you can help. I know none of you like the hard sell, but this is just that important. Skip to the end if you're ready--I'd rather you spend time helping than reading this--but if you're not convinced, keep reading, because I have something for every objection. You can even skip to yours to save time!

Liberal friends: "This is just a re-run. Didn't we do this already?" Sorry, but you've got to do it again. Please. Because this one could stick, and its consequences could be devastating, not just for Louisiana's gays and lesbians, but for everyone in the state. And who wants to visit a state where the gays are miserable? If we can stop this bill in conservative Louisiana, we can stop it anywhere. It's not a re-run. It's new, different, and important.

Non-political friends: "It's just cake. What's the big deal? Get another baker. Aren't most cake decorators gay anyway?" Yes, we rule all creative, visual, and culinary fields, and cake-decorating is all three. But unfortunately, according to Equality Louisiana it's not just cake. HB 707 is written to make any business or state agency immune from the law if any employee chooses to refuse services--even essential services--to gay and lesbian couples.

We aren't just talking about wedding planners (awfully gay), church musicians (even gayer) and preachers (already protected under law); we're talking about hospitals, funeral homes, utility companies, state agencies--every aspect of public life would hold the threat of confrontation, embarrassment, and refusal of even life-saving services. Gay and lesbian couples would be a permanent second class, served only at the mercy and whim of every business in the state. It's not about cake, it's about everything.

Savvy, Cynical Friends: "This is just theatre. Sure, it's something for the tea party and gay groups to fight about, but this bill will never stand up in court, right?" Don't be so sure. The court's done some pretty strange things lately, and a lot depends on the Presidential elections to come. But, beyond that, Louisiana relies too heavily on tourism and the film industry to get targeted by the Internet Outrage machine! Passing this bill might be good for Bobby Jindal's chances with the Iowa Tea Party, but, no matter what the courts do, this is bad for Louisiana's economy. It's not just theatre; it matters (also, theatre matters).

Libertarian Friends: "This is just business. Let people serve who they want. Supply and demand will sort it all out." I'm all for giving my dollars to allies and not enemies. Hell, this Saints fan won't even do a layover in Atlanta. But we learned during the Civil Rights Movement that "take your business elsewhere" doesn't work for minorities, especially when it comes to essential services, because there may be no businesses in the area willing to piss off the majority by serving them. In an oppressive climate like what we're seeing in Louisiana, telling everyone you're anti-gay may get you more business than telling them you're not.

Legislation and precedent were put in place to keep the economic power of the majority from making life complete hell for everyone else. HB 707 is trying to make lesbian and gay couples the glaring exception to basic rules of business procedure that have been in place for half a century. It's not just business; it's about basic human dignity.

And, of course, my Fundamentalist Christian friends: "This is just Jesus. Christians are people of conviction, and they have to be able to live out their convictions in their daily lives." But let's see what those convictions are. To support HB 707 as a Christian, here's what you have to believe (get comfortable; this will take a minute):

First, there is a God in charge of the universe who cares about human beings. Second, God loved us so much, He sent His son to die for our sins, placing us in a state of grace. Third, Paul came after Jesus and gave new rules about how members of the church were to act. Fourth, all these things are recorded in the Bible, which is the inerrant word of God.

With me so far? Fine. But we're just getting started. You also have to believe:

Fifth, that the death of Jesus, which was supposed to move humanity away from the laws of the Old Testament, didn't count for everyone, plus sixth, Paul only has to be taken seriously when he's talking about gays, but not divorce, women's hair length, women speaking in church, or any number of other things, including sex at all. Or seventh, that the Bible lied when it said that the sin of Sodom was failure to help the poor (Ezekiel 16:49).

But that's still not enough. You also have to believe:

Eighth, that the God who sent his son to die for your sins is going to punish businesses--and the whole nation, in fact--for treating customers with basic hospitality. Ninth, that He isn't going to punish those same businesses for serving multiple divorcees, shotgun weddings, arranged marriages, or mail-order brides, only gays and lesbians. Tenth, that you therefore have an obligation, as part of your religion, to encode your specific values into civil law, despite any talk of separation of church and state.

Whew! It was hard to even list all of that, let alone believe it. But believing it has its advantages; it keeps you tight with a powerful social club that meets every Sunday morning--a club that is way too big for just one building, that controls the social and political life of vast segments of this country, and calls itself Christian. Too bad it has nothing to do with Christ.

How do we know it has nothing to do with Christ? Because Jesus was actually confronted with the idea of refusing service to someone in Mark 7:25-30. Go read it for yourself. Jesus was Jewish, kept Jewish law, and therefore had as little as possible to do with Gentiles, as the Pharisees preached it should be. So when this Gentile asked for a miracle from Jesus, he followed the letter of his religion's law and said no, until her pleading changed his mind. In the end, the story goes, he gave her the miracle that she asked for.

Now, as much as you may despise hate gay and lesbian marriage (and you are by no means biblically required to do so), I promise you the Pharisees thought the Gentiles were worse, and would have refused service to them in a heartbeat. But, confronted with this idea himself, Jesus chose another way. A harder way. He didn't ask for her conversion, or her money, or any change in her behavior; he only simply chose mercy over cruelty, love over legalism, people over Pharisees.

It was acts like this that eventually got him killed. Compassion, even when it hurts. When a law you hate compels you to go a mile, you go two. You love so radically, so meekly, that people decide that kind of love can only be from God. It's what you signed up for when you signed on to be a Christian. Sorry if you were told differently.  And if you really do believe that your religion obligates you to encode your values into state law? Get busy. Because radical compassion is sorely lacking, down at the statehouse.

So it comes to this: no matter who you are, no matter your politics, your education, your religion, or your state of residence, you have a reason to kill this bill in committee. All it takes is a phone call to a committee member, and you're probably on your phone anyway. Call a few up (R's and D's), be honest about your relationship with the state, and tell them why you think the bill should never leave committee.

Neil C. Abramson (D) 504-275-8051
Nancy Landry (R) 337-262-2252
Joseph Bouie (D) 504-286-1033
John Bel Edwards (D) 985-748-2245
Randal L. Gaines (D) 985-652-1228
Raymond E. Garofalo (R) 504-277-4729
Cameron Henry (R) 504-838-5433
Mike Huval (R) 337-332-3331
Patrick O. Jefferson (D) 318-927-2519
Mike Johnson (R) 318-741-2790
Gregory A. Miller (R) 985-764-9991
Clay Schexnayder (R) 225-472-6016
Alfred C. Williams (D) 225-382-3243
Chuck Kleckley (R) 337-475-3016
Walt Leger III (D) 504-556-9970

Please also give a Facebook like to Equality Louisiana, Forum for Equality, and PACE, three groups that are working hard to fight this bill. And if you live in Louisiana, please attend a Town Hall Meeting near you, to see what you can do locally.

Thanks for listening, thanks for sharing this around (#notmylouisiana), and thanks for making those calls!

 

 

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