The constant comparisons of Arizona’s now-defunct effort (SB 1062) to protect the religious rights of vendors to refuse to be part of gay marriage ceremonies to southern Jim Crow laws requiring de jure discrimination against blacks represent a tower of ignorance and exploitation.
Ignorance of history is always a good bet these days, and can be exploited by unscrupulous propagandists (is that an oxymoron?). Their goal is to equate the struggle for gay rights to the older struggle for equal rights for African-American people. Whether or not that parallel is correct, there is absolutely no parallel between the Arizona law and Jim Crow laws of the antebellum South.
Jonah Goldberg sums it up nicely:
The ridiculous invocations of Jim Crow are utterly ahistorical, by the way. Jim Crow was state-enforced, and businesses that wanted to serve blacks could be prosecuted. Let the market work and the same social forces that have made homosexuality mainstream will make refusing service to gays a horrible business decision — particularly in the wedding industry!
Throwing words like “Jim Crow” around with no knowledge of their meaning except that they mean BAD!!! would never be effective if people were not historically illiterate as well as lacking in the ability to think logically. But that’s what it’s come to, and that’s no accident either.
The use of the Jim Crow analogy has become so widespread that I was shocked to see it misused by conservative writer Ben Domenech in an article he wrote for The Federalist. Although it appears he’s mocking the exaggerations by the law’s critics, his article reads as though he also might not understand why the term is completely inappropriate in the first place:
Let’s get a few things straight. Jim Crow for gays was not prevented by Jan Brewer’s veto of their religious liberty bill last night. Indeed, most Arizona businesses – like most businesses across the country – are free under the law to discriminate according to sexual orientation or anything of the kind. …
The reality is that discrimination on the basis of sex in public accommodation and in numerous other ways is for the most part totally legal at the state level. Yes, this crazy Jim Crow reality that has been fearmongered to death is already the law in most states. Most people think it’s illegal, but it isn’t – last night I heard a sports radio host describing America as a place where “no one has any right to deny anyone any service any time for any reason”, which is pretty much the opposite of freedom of association. But while it is legal, it rarely comes up – because it is so infrequently an issue!
To clarify: “Jim Crow for gays” was never an issue in the Arizona law one way or the other, and not just because people are free to associate or disassociate with gay people even without it. “Jim Crow for gays” would be a law that ended freedom of association rather than protecting it, a law that mandated separation, a law that prevented heterosexuals from serving gay people (at weddings or otherwise) rather than protecting their right to decide not to if it violated their religious beliefs. The fact that many states allow certain kinds of “discrimination on the basis of sex” (or rather, on the basis of sexual orientation, which is what I believe Domenech actually means) is not a “crazy Jim Crow reality,” either, whether you agree with those laws or not. Prescribing disassociation would be.
Jim Crow laws did not protect freedom of association, nor did miscegenation laws in the states where they were passed. Au contraire.