The SB1062 boondoggle is finally over. But all over the country people are still wondering, what’s wrong with Arizona? Are Arizonans really a bunch of angry redneck bigots without good excuse for obvious discrimination? As an Arizona native, married to a 4th generation Arizonan, who has lived in rural, suburban and urban Arizona, let me attempt to give my friends in other parts of the country some context…
Let me say at the outset: I did NOT support SB1062. But although I opposed the bill, I honestly do not believe it was birthed in hate and bigotry. I believe that because I know too many Arizonans across a broad spectrum of political and religious persuasions. I know very, very few Arizonans driven by hate. Then how, you ask, could our legislature come up with such a horrible thing?
Simple – SB1062 was the product of the Arizona psyche. The Arizona psyche is the reason Arizonans voted “no” on MLK day twenty years ago, and why we keep re-electing a crazy Sheriff.* It also explains why our legislature dreamt up such a poorly thought through bit of legislation as SB1062.
As hard as it is to believe if you live outside of Arizona, the Arizona psyche is not hateful. O, like everywhere else, we have a few haters. But what drives Arizonans is not hate, it is an independent, oppositional, and reactionary personality. Arizonans are Westerners – fiercely independent. There are two qualities to the Arizona psyche. First, we dislike being told what to do…and we dislike anyone else being told what they must do, either. It’s a cowboy thing…which, come to think of it, explains our weird gun laws. Second, Arizonans abhor bullies. We nearly always rush to the aid an underdog. There is a good reason John Wayne had a ranch in Arizona: He fit in here.
Let me give an example of the Arizona psyche: Back in 1990 Arizona was one of the few states actually putting the MLK Day issue to a popular vote. At the time I lived in the town that reportedly voted against the MLK holiday with the highest margin in the state. I knew at least 50 people who were going to vote “yes” until the NFL said publicly that they would pull the Super Bowl if we voted against it. Those people, many of them Democrats, walked into the voting booth and punched “no.” For months afterward I heard ordinarily progressive Arizonans complain, “Who does the NFL they think they are? They can’t tell us what to do.” Arizonans dislike folks telling others what to do.
Second, Arizonans despise bullies. I was once watched as a neighborhood changed sides and petitions multiple times in a dispute between neighbors over an out of code home remodel. Every time one of the parties got the 34 neighbors names on their petition they ran, not for reconciliation, but the courts. As their chosen mediator, I told them both several times, “Whoa, the neighbors aren’t saying they like you more than him, they just didn’t want you to get messed with. They are on your side because, in their mind, your neighbor is messing with you. If you try that, you become the bully. They will change sides. Fast.” They were transplants and didn’t understand why the neighbors wouldn’t stick with their “side.” Arizonans side with the perceived underdog.
SB1062 was a bad bill. It was so broadly constructed as to have virtually no boundaries. Corporations (Coca Cola or Apple for instance) would have become “individuals” under the law…and with the same Constitutional protections as an individual, with all the terrifying implications inherent in that. It was intended to stop the flower lady from being forced to participate in someone’s same-sex wedding. No. Arizona does not have same-sex marriage. But it will. And everyone knows it. Our legislators are merely doing their cowboy best to keep “outside forces” with social-change agendas from coming onto our range and pushing people around.
And, yes, those who supported SB1062 did look dumb in interviews. Why wouldn’t they? Anderson Cooper and other media folk were asking questions our legislators never thought to try to answer…the reason they appeared confused when newscasters asked them, “Why do you want to discriminate against Gay people?” is that they were confused. They genuinely didn’t understand the question – they were supporting the flower lady against what appears to them to be a legal juggernaut that wants to push her around. When dealing with Arizonans, keep in mind that we are reactionaries, not haters.
Arizonans are big on independence. And this isn’t about Gay/Straight. Arizonans generally don’t need to agree with a neighbor to ride to their aid. But we do need to know that the neighbor isn’t going to try to take over all of the water holes. And I can tell you this, for a big swath of Arizonans the LGBT community doesn’t come across as what they are, a small and beleaguered neighbor who has always had a little spread over by the Mesa asking to be left alone. To many Arizonans the LGBT community comes across as the new rancher with a lot of money and Eastern friends with political connections riding roughshod into our little town and trying to take over…Yeah, like the sophisticated newcomer bad guys who show up in dozens of the Duke’s old movies.
Ironically, if supporters of same-sex marriage want to speed up the passing of same-sex marriage in Arizona they could use the Arizona psyche to their advantage. The LGBT community could say, “We have told you that our marriage in no way will affect yours. We mean that. We understand that you are nervous about the lawsuits in other states, but we meant what we said. We mean it so much that we will help write a better version of that bad bill if you feel you need it. All we are asking for is the right to live our lives as we see fit. We support your right to live yours as you see fit too. And, to be honest, who wants someone working their wedding that doesn’t want to be there?” That would take the fear out of the folks who feel the need to propose such knee-jerk legislation. Or the LGBT community could beg the Governor to reconsider and sign the bill. The fastest way for the LGBT community to get same-sex marriage in Arizona would be to pass SB1062 and watch Arizonans rush to change sides to defend the new underdog when the few haters acted on their newfound powers of discrimination.
So remember, if you find yourself dealing with an Arizonan and wondering how we will react just ask yourself, WWJWD? What Would John Wayne Do? Like John Wayne, you can assume we have good intent. You can assume we won’t take kindly to attempts to boss us around. You can expect we will ride to your defense if it appears that someone is doing the same to you. You can assume we will probably throw a right cross first and ask questions later. Yes, we tend to be high on loyalty and low on sophistication. But, in the end, we stand with folks right to live their lives as they see fit, whether we agree with them or not. And, yes, like John Wayne, many of us are packing heat.
Now I change gears to talk to my fellow Arizonan Christians. The saddest part of this whole thing to me was the response of most of the Christian community. I get your nervousness as a citizen, but surely Christ is a higher allegiance than culture? Regardless of whether or not you think that a same-sex relationship is sinful, surely you acknowledge the neither Jesus, nor any other New Testament writer gives Jesus’ followers any directions on the treatment of our LGBT friends and family members outside of loving them. Is that LGBT person a brother or sister in Christ? Then love them. Are they an unbeliever? Then love them. Are they a neighbor? Love them. An enemy? Same deal. So regardless of how we over-react as Arizonans, if you claim the name of Jesus Christ, kindness and care to all are Jesus’ call.
We can do better, friends.
*Among other things, Sheriff Joe keeps our prison industrial complex running by charging inmates for parole, returning them to prison for the inability to pay for their freedom after they have paid their debt to society. He also staged document checks on the steps of churches as parishioners exited.