Earps vs. Clantons at the Tolerance Corral

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Arizona has a reputation as a politically nutty state. I’ve lived here all my life, and I prefer to think of it as Goldwater country: a feisty outpost of individual independence. I don’t like the idea that millions of other Americans think I live in loony-land, but given our occasional, highly publicized spasms of hysteria, I can see where they get the notion.

We’re seen as the Wild West. Land of the O.K. Corral. Still, at heart, an untamed territory, crawling with cowboys and yokels. But I don’t think our problem is really that different from problems anywhere else in America. We’re degenerating into an entire nation of spoiled and very bratty children.

We all remember the bullies from elementary school. Most of us had some classmates we liked, and others we didn’t. If we didn’t like somebody, we probably hung around with somebody else. But bullies aren’t content simply to dislike people. When they dislike us, they want to make it our problem.

There are bullies on both sides of the “tolerance” issue. I view the conflict with the detachment born of distaste. I don’t see why spoiled children, on either side, should carry the day. In this instance, thanks to Gov. Jan Brewer, they haven’t.

The other evening after Mass, some of my very left-of-center friends summed up our latest brush with lunacy by saying, “Well, the governor did the right thing by vetoing that stupid bill . . . but after all, it was just business.” Our Republican governor, in other words, pandered to those evil business interests. What a neat and tidy way to make sense of it all.

I know why the opinion-shapers to whom they listen are telling them that. Because the statist left is getting ready to punish the “religious freedom” crowd by pushing for statewide public accommodations laws, forcing every merchant to serve everybody. Now that they’ve won one showdown, their blood is up and they’re spoiling for another. It’s the Earps versus the Clantons all over again.

Hurting people’s feelings is not a crime, and it never should be. If peace is to reign in any society, those who simply want peace must be permitted to have it.

Many social conservatives will see this as all the gays in the state conspiring to violate their precious religious freedom. Though many gay people I know express opinions similar to mine, I can speak for no one but myself. I simply want to be left the hell alone. I want to live in peace.

I think it’s high time the Wild West was tamed, but I don’t think the Man with the Badge is the one to tame it. We, the ordinary citizens, need to tame it ourselves. I’ve seen enough of those old westerns to know that when the marshal rides into town, that’s when the real shooting starts.

Let’s begin with some clarification of what “public accommodation” means. Police, fire protection, and other basic, life-and-death services — for which we are all taxed to pay, regardless of our sexual orientation — are the true public accommodations, and as such, they must remain available to everybody. It is the marshal’s job to protect us all, whether he likes us or not. 

Those of us who respect liberty are interested in a solution that lets you be you and me be me. One that doesn’t force anybody to do anything. Bullies aren’t interested in peaceful compromise. They want a shootout every day. There are plenty of bullies on both the right and left, and those of us who want to clean up the town need to stop letting them goad us into needless conflicts.

When Arizona’s SB 1062 was being slopped together into a bill, it was suggested that a clause be added mandating that merchants who wanted to take advantage of the religious exemption publicly post that they were doing so. They didn’t like this. Not only did they want to be able to deny service to those of whose “lifestyles” they disapproved (meaning gays), but they wanted to be cowards about it. Though I agree that they should be free to discriminate against me, I do, however, think it’s only fair that they should warn me. According to my own religious convictions, bigotry is a sin. I believe that the Religious Right is as close to an Antichrist as any entity has ever been, and I don’t want one dime of my money supporting it. I don’t like these people, and I want no more to do with them than they do with me. But if they leave me alone, I’m perfectly content to leave them alone.

Along with reforming our civil court system to discourage frivolous lawsuits (like gay couples suing photographers for refusing to take their wedding pictures), we should exempt from litigation merchants who loudly and proudly post warnings that — because they’re such good Christians — they refuse to serve gays. That would bring an end to the clamor for heavy-handed legislation to protect the religious freedom of everybody who decides, willy-nilly, to discriminate against everybody else. It would also take the state out of the business of determining whose religious beliefs are really “sincere” and whose are not. Hurting people’s feelings is not a crime, and it never should be. If peace is to reign in any society, those who simply want peace must be permitted to have it.

I’m very glad we’ve gotten rid of lynching, and I’d like to see the gunfights come to an end. But there’s one Old West tradition I’d very much like to see revived. Some people ought to be tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. Those who persist in disturbing the peace by making their dislikes everybody else’s problem richly deserve to be dispatched in this way. When the mob forms to clear the country of them, I’ll be the first in line.




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Seventh Grade Revisited

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Junior high was fun. I was not one of the beautiful people — I was a nerd. But I enjoyed being a nerd, liked my geeky friends, and relished the self-discovery of figuring out where I fitted in. And the relief of accepting where I didn’t.

Perhaps that’s a stage we mustn’t miss, however painful it can be. If we don’t go all the way through it, maybe we sort of get stuck there. And if we aren’t willing to accept what we learn about ourselves as teenagers, we may spend the rest of our lives snubbing the icky kids and angling for a seat with the cool kids in the cafeteria.

It’s also possible that nobody makes it entirely through that phase in adolescence. I must admit there were certain aspects of it I had to revisit when I was mature enough to process them as an adult. Coming out as a lesbian was something I couldn’t bring myself to do in the Anita Bryant years, while I was still in school. Coming out of yet another closet — as a libertarian — happened even later.

Libertarian philosophy is enjoying an upsurge these days. Government has become so oppressive, so menacing to nearly every aspect of our lives, that everybody not totally under the spell of statist witchery is giving it a look. That also means it is under attack from those who are under the statist spell. Now that I’m an out-and-proud libertarian, I find myself under attack from many more quarters than I ever was for being gay — especially because I refuse to stay obediently on the gay-leftist reservation.

“Eeeewww,”I often hear, “how can you associate with those libertarians? They don't care about the poor. And they don’t care about morality, either." The latter charge, of course, comes not so much from the Left as from the social Right. Both sides agree that I’ve got cooties; they merely disagree about the sort of cooties I have.

Am I a grumpy Scrooge who doesn’t care if the poor suffer? Or am I a get-naked-and-go-crazy libertine, who thinks people should copulate like bunnies under every bush? I’m not sure how I could possibly be both, as the two don’t necessarily go together according to any logical scheme. But then again, those who desperately lob every bomb they can throw at libertarians don’t seem to need no stinkin’ logic.

There are some libertarians with whom I disagree. I may think they are callous toward those less fortunate, or that they don’t care as much as they should about morality. The hostility some seem to have toward religion grates on this particular devout Episcopalian. But I don’t regard political affiliation as a social clique.

Where did so many people get the notion that they can’t associate — ever — with those with whom they sometimes disagree? That’s the way kids think, but I was under the impression that grownups eventually learned to rise above it. Who said life had to be pleasant every minute of every day, or that we’d never need to work with those we wouldn’t care to play with? I wouldn’t want to sit in the cafeteria with everybody I know. But if I share their convictions on matters of importance to us all, I am willing to work with them to make the world a better place.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as the saying goes. Or, as the Founder of my faith said, “Those who are not against us are for us."

Those of us who have truly graduated from junior high school understand that we can’t simply go with the flow, that however we were made, and however we got here, we do not exist merely to conform. We have voices so they can be heard. I appreciate that as a libertarian, my voice is being heard. And I appreciate all who will listen — even when they disagree.

Perhaps that’s when it matters most.




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