And speaking of same-sex marriage: The unspoken words of John Walker | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

And speaking of same-sex marriage: The unspoken words of John Walker

Posted By on Tue, Apr 7, 2015 at 10:11 AM

click to enlarge WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? Rep. John Walker poses the question in speech against anti-gay 'conscience' bill. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? Rep. John Walker poses the question in speech against anti-gay 'conscience' bill.
Rep. John Walker, the 77-year-old civil rights lawyer, provided frequent emotional comfort — if scant practical success — during the recent legislative session by rising repeatedly to challenge laws that invaded privacy, curbed liberty and afflicted the poor to aid the comforted (including a solo speech against the big legislative pay raise.)

One speech was written but — by agreement with legislative leaders seeking to limit debate — not delivered on the floor. It was the speech Walker prepared to oppose HB 1228, the so-called conscience protection bill by Rep. Bob Ballinger that was motivated by opposition to equal treatment of gay people. It passed both houses and became a national controversy after Gov. Asa Hutchinson backed off his pivotal support at the last minute because of corporate pressure.

The Religious Right  thinks that equal treatment of gay people in employment and housing (not just in cake baking) amounts to an erosion of THEIR religious freedom. A professor of religion at Luther College put it well in a recent essay: The religious freedom bills are really about 'Christian dominance.' Wrote Guy Nave:

Under the guise of protecting "religious freedoms," it appears that some Christians believe they should have the "freedom" to legally deny certain people the rights, privileges and benefits experienced by other people.


(PS — These laws can cut many different ways. Here's a story about a person who complained in Colorado when a bakery wouldn't bake him a cake with an anti-gay message on it.)

Which brings me back to John Walker. He's had many fine hours in a storied career (and, yes, exasperating ones, as well) but this was one of his fine moments. If this be winter for the civil rights lion, he's not proceeding meekly.

On the jump you'll find the full speech, which Walker distributed to colleagues in written form. But the conclusion says:

This bill is anti-gay, anti- religious, anti-civil rights and anti-humanity. It does not improve quality of life or recognize the right to life of all citizens on equal terms and conditions. It should be defeated.

And for those of us who are Christians, we should ask ourselves: “What would Jesus do?” I submit that Jesus would teach us (even command us) to recognize that these men, women, boys and girls are our sons, our daughters, our sisters, our neighbors, our friends. They, too, are our brothers and we, as our brothers’ keepers, must ensure that our laws and our government accord them protection, respect and dignity. He would command us to honor His greatest commandment, “love”, as it relates to all of our brothers and sisters.

In fact, given that we, as Americans, openly profess that, “we are all endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights … to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, we have no other choice than to defeat HB 1228.

Though a compromise version of this bill ultimately was adopted, it did nothing to change the second-class status of gay people under the law of Arkansas. But the tide of public opinion nationally moves in the right direction. Speeches by influential black leaders like Walker have been important in moving opinion among African-Americans, more resistant to the gay rights movement on account of church influence. The full text of his speech:

I rise to address HB 1228.

This bill purports to be a measure to reinforce a citizen’s right to choose with whom he or she associates in any endeavor and to deny such associations for religious reasons. While the bill may not specify an explicit intent to allow discrimination against members of the LBGTQ community, it is clearly focused in its language to that group. The focus is not thinly veiled. Rather, it is now common knowledge that the term or phrase “religious freedom” is used in this state and across this country as the current, more politically correct, code for “anti-gay.”
Because some of you may not be aware of the term “protected class”, I will explain what that means. The courts have long ago determined that there are protected classes of individuals under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which prohibits discrimination against persons on the basis of race, age, gender, national origin and handicapping condition.

HB 1228 is the type of legislation that would be suspicious (even unconstitutional) if explicitly directed toward those protected classes. This legislation, nonetheless, opens the door for discrimination against these protected classes by allowing, for purported religious reasons, a discriminator to deny employment, service, or dignity to all persons who may be other than the discriminator.

Over the last couple of years, the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken to the issue of same-sex marriage. While it has not ruled conclusively that this group is constitutionally protected as is race, age, gender, national origin and handicapping condition, it has moved ever closer to doing so. Within weeks or months, that Court may hand down a ruling which addresses this for our nation just as it did in 1967 with respect to race in Loving v. Virginia. There is no urgency for this body to enact this legislation when we may soon have an authoritative decision.
Furthermore, this bill is without logic or reason. While one may freely make certain personal choices for interactions in terms of association, marriage or where one may live, this bill is much more sweeping in its reach because it allows any business person or other person of status to deny business, service or status under the guise, pretext or sham that this business decision is being made because of a personal decision to exercise of his or her so-called religious freedom.

While we don’t try to legislate that a person “like” someone, we can (and, indeed, we must) legislate that those who choose to hold themselves out to the public for business purposes operate their “business” without discriminating against certain people — even if they don’t like them or agree with their lifestyle. The free flow of interstate commerce demands it and depends upon it.

Even more so, we must come to grips with the fact that we were all created by the same Creator and that our Constitution recognizes that we all are entitled, as matter of birth, to equal treatment. That is not a choice, it is a right.

We know that treatment may take into account preference, or regulation of preference, based upon handicapping condition (race, age, gender, etc.) when the government dispenses benefits. Citizenship is a benefit and it cannot be taken or denied by wit, prejudice or caprice as is being used by the authors of this bill to, in effect, say to a segment of humanity that because of their decision to openly associate and love the persons of their choices, the bill sponsors’ choices trump all other choices. That is exactly what this bill does. Representative Ballinger and the supporters of this bill believe that their views are superior and that they can determine how I (as a Black person) some of you (as women) and others (whose sexual orientations, behaviors, conduct or beliefs of which they do not approve) should live.

This bill is anti-gay, anti- religious, anti-civil rights and anti-humanity. It does not improve quality of life or recognize the right to life of all citizens on equal terms and conditions. It should be defeated.

And for those of us who are Christians, we should ask ourselves: “What would Jesus do?” I submit that Jesus would teach us (even command us) to recognize that these men, women, boys and girls are our sons, our daughters, our sisters, our neighbors, our friends. They, too, are our brothers and we, as our brothers’ keepers, must ensure that our laws and our government accord them protection, respect and dignity. He would command us to honor His greatest commandment, “love”, as it relates to all of our brothers and sisters.

In fact, given that we, as Americans, openly profess that, “we are all endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights … to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, we have no other choice than to defeat HB 1228.

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