I’ve tried to let the veto of SB 1062 percolate in my mind for a bit and settle on its meaning. Some, like Brian Beutler, have argued that the veto of SB 1062 has ended the use of “religious freedom” as a pretext for anti-gay discrimination.  I think the veto is even more significant than that, as it assures the end to formal anti-gay discrimination in the US. To see why, it is important to place the veto not in the context of politics, but in the context of our conflicted human nature.

Protesters with signs: Homosex Is Sin, Repent Or Perish

Religious doctrine is one way hate gains a veneer of cultural acceptability.

Human beings are of two natures with respect to tolerance and prejudice. On the one hand tribalism, prejudice and fear of “the other” seems to be endemic to all humanity. I am not aware of a single culture or context in the world where such ugliness does not appear. Americans are no exception, and the struggles to liberate ourselves from prejudice and bigotry are part of our national identity.

And though hatred, tribalism and prejudice seem baked into our DNA as people, humans still feel a discomfort with hateful feelings. Even to the bigots, hateful feelings are like dirty thoughts and acts, vulgar things which must be made respectable and sterile to be discussed in public. All hate craves respectability. Whether it is in pseudoscience, religious doctrine or arguments that an unjust system actually benefits the oppressed, all hate craves respectability. It is only by a psychological and moral alchemy that turns the vulgar and distasteful into something that can be written in newspapers and discussed among polite company that prejudice and hate can survive.

Consider two examples from recent American History. The great cultural victory of the Civil Rights movement was making segregation known to all Americans to be the ugly and oppressive system that it was. Segregation could not maintain its respectable and genteel facade after the nation was exposed to the juxtaposed images of dignified peaceful protesters and police officers with hoses and dogs. Denuded of its respectability, the demise of formal segregation was assured. Similarly, after World War II, antisemitism in the US did not suddenly vanish. There was no sudden change of heart among the American establishment or rush to embrace religious pluralism. The Nazis robbed antisemitism of any respectability it might have had and thus starved antisemitism of the essential oxygen it needed to perpetuate itself in the way it had prior to World War II.

And so it is with anti-gay hatred. Those that are bigoted seek to make their hate respectable by codifying it in law and justifying it with religion. The true victory of the veto of SB 1062 is that it denied anti-gay forces the refuge of respectability that the law and religion can provide. Without the color of law or the the ability to claim religious justification for biased policies anti-gay forces must either accept the vulgar nature of what they are proposing, or surrender it to remain a part of respectable society.

If American history is a guide, prejudice goes underground before it is eliminated. There will be no quick fix for anti-gay prejudice and the end of formal discrimination will be far from the end of the battle. However, it is the first step, and the veto of SB 1062 signals the beginning of the end of the first stage of the battle.

You can follow me on Twitter @ira_steinberg.

Photo by Loren Javier released under a Creative Commons No Derivatives license.