Being an Arizona resident entitles you to a lot of peculiar things. You can never be legally refused a glass of water. Your driver’s license won’t expire until you hit retirement age. Every gallon of ice cream you purchase in the Grand Canyon State is guaranteed to weigh at least four and a half pounds.What being an Arizonan doesn’t guarantee you is the right to not be fired for being gay, and Governor Janet Brewer’s veto of SB 1062 doesn’t change a damn thing about that. Lost in the celebration of the bill’s downfall is the fact that it’s just as legal in Arizona today to fire someone, deny them service, and evict them for being gay or lesbian as it was yesterday. The state is one of 29 that provides no legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation. It’s also one of 34 states where being transsexual is enough to merit being fired.
It’s unclear what the point is of legalizing discrimination that’s already legal, but similar “turn away the gay” bills are currently pending in Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Tennessee. The national outcry over SB 1062 will likely slam the brakes on those other initiatives but it won’t prevent a man from being fired for being too “effeminate;” a man from being fired from a Catholic high school for marrying another man; or being rendered homeless after coming out as transgender.
The debate over whether sharing a bathroom sink with a person of the same sex counts as a firing offense could have been prevented 40 years ago, when a bill to ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was first introduced in Congress. In four decades, such a bill has never made it to the president’s desk. As a stopgap, President Obama could issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but he has declined to do so. The president’s defenders cite nebulous “political realities” that prevent him from signing the order, but the reality is that 69 percent of Americans think it’s already illegal to fire someone for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
One would hope that the $64-billion price tag of workplace discrimination should be enough motivation to finally pass a federal nondiscrimination act—there’s one waiting for a vote in the House of Representatives this very minute!—but if it’s not, the outcry over Arizona’s flirtation with legalizing lunch-counter bigotry needs to be the catalyst.
The legalized discrimination that SB 1062 represented still affects millions of workers. If that fact is lost in the midst of celebrating the demise of a functionless bill, then this entire debate has been a missed opportunity to address the real issue.