Veto of controversial anti-gay bill can’t mask Arizona’s intolerance
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist February 26, 2014 10:47PM
Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts (center) during the second day of the 29th Annual Cubs Convention on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2014. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 28, 2014 9:06AM
‘I assure you, as always, I will do the right thing for the State of Arizona.’’
That’s what Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer posted for her 43,000 Twitter followers Wednesday morning.
I guess we should trust the woman’s tweets because by Wednesday evening she had vetoed the dangerous, discriminatory and outright cruel bill sent to her by the state legislature, the proposal that would have allowed state businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers on religious grounds.
This one was truly a no-brainer.
But you couldn’t be sure.
Even as states around the country — including Illinois — have legalized gay marriage, part of Arizona continues down its hell-fire, cowboy path.
Arizona, remember, is the state that at first refused to make Martin Luther King Day a state holiday (costing it the 1993 Super Bowl), went after illegal aliens in 2010 (the Supreme Court struck down parts of that controversial bill) and repeatedly re-elected Maricopa Country Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the man who billed himself as ‘‘America’s Toughest Sheriff,’’ dressed prisoners in pink underwear, instituted voluntary chain gangs and had detainees sleep in tents in the desert heat.
Go to Winslow or Prescott or Yuma or Gila Bend, and a scorpion inside a block of glass is a favorite souvenir. Ditto the tarantula. And rattlesnake head.
Rugged terrain. Rugged folks.
But if that bill had passed, what would it have had to do with sports?
As already mentioned, the state lost the Super Bowl, and a ton of money, two decades ago when the NFL and its championship game bolted because of Arizona’s dumb-ness. And next season’s Super Bowl is set to be played in Arizona, too.
But consider this: The Cubs hold spring training in Arizona, and two weeks ago Cubs board members Tom and Laura Ricketts were part of the ribbon-cutting ceremony at sparkling new Cubs Park in Mesa.
Laura is an open lesbian, with a partner and a child. If this so-called ‘‘religious freedom’’ bill had been in effect in Arizona two weeks ago, and Laura and her brother and others went out to celebrate at a restaurant after the ceremony, theoretically, at least, Laura could have been refused service if her homosexuality offended the restaurateur because of his (or her) religious beliefs.
Like, stand outside until we’re done. And not in this guy’s parking lot, either.
It’s a ludicrous thought. Indeed, the ramifications of such a law lead to a kind of insanity — would homosexuals start carrying — or be forced to carry — ‘‘gay’’ cards? Would they get a pink triangle (gay men) or black triangle (lesbians) sewn onto their shirts and blouses, a la Dachau and Buchenwald?
TV newsman Anderson Cooper, himself out and gay, queried Arizona state Sen. Al Melvin, a supporter of the proposed bill, about the reasoning behind it.
‘‘It’s pre-emptive,’’ Melvin said. He then added, ‘‘All the pillars of society, as we know it today, are under attack.’’
It’s maybe understandable why Melvin, who is almost 70 and wears a cross on his lapel, might feel his pillars are under attack. Times change. A lot of people felt under attack when the car replaced the horse.
Yet proponents of this scary bill were serious, and if the Rickettses didn’t complain openly (which they didn’t) or in a back room (who knows?), you might wonder if they’re hypocrites or disinterested beyond revenue concerns.
At a time when Jason Collins became the first openly gay athlete in any of America’s four major pro sports — and is warmly accepted by teammates and the NBA — one has to wonder what rock some Arizona folks are living under.
Think of what could have happened if this bill had passed and the Nets, Collins’ team, played the Suns in Phoenix. Could a hotel owner have told Collins he wasn’t wanted? Might Collins have had to stay on the ‘‘gay side’’ of town?
How reminiscent of times when Oscar Robertson and so many other great black ballplayers were not allowed to stay with their white teammates.
This would almost be funny, were it not so real. Gov. Brewer had to be thinking about her political future as she waited to make her decision. The NFL certainly helped her slip into the proper stance by saying it was ‘‘following the issue.’’
Or maybe she thought of the problems that could occur if gay defensive lineman Michael Sam were to come to town with a visiting NFL team. Or even play for the Arizona Cardinals.
In Uganda, dictator Yoweri Museveni just passed a terrifying anti-gay law that wields life imprisonment as a penalty. The law all but endorses public violence against gays. And a Ugandan newspaper just outed what it said are the country’s ‘‘200 Top Homos.’’
Good to know we’re better than that place, huh?