Friday, February 21, 2014

There Is No Arizona. No Painted Desert, No Sedona.

State of Arizona Senate Bill 1062 passed yesterday, amending sections 41‑1493 & 41‑1493.01, Arizona revised statutes; relating to the free exercise of religion.


Deletions to the existing statute are in red strikeout and additions in blue allcaps.

The substance of the edits (and presumably why this is being hailed as an anti-gay bill) is that it affords secular organizations the same rights of refusal of association that were previously strictly limited to religious assemblies or institutions. So if someone offends your "religious" sensibilities, you don't have to be on hallowed ground anymore to tell them to pack sand.

Opponents of legislation like this understand (correctly) that "religion" in this instance is a worm-chewed fig leaf under which turgid bigotry swells. Hate the sin, love the sinner  and all that (even though "sin" is theologically improper in the case of homosexuality; "abomination" is the ordinary translation, but even that is misleading).

It occurs to me that there are two sorts of problems here: bigoted beliefs and discriminatory practices. Legislation aims to curb the latter for one side and one side only of commercial transactions. It's still perfectly legal for customers to discriminate to their curdled hearts' content; not so for vendors.

Do the EE conditions help understand the moral intuition here? When an ordinary citizen not in the role of running an organization makes the decision to withhold business, with whom lies the BATNA disparity? I suspect our imagination leads us to put the burden of asymmetry on the back of the business owner: failure to exchange is one trifling sale among many for a firm, but is of relatively greater import for the consumer. Naturally, this heuristic is upturned for boutique businesses or personal services, but this reversal may not be salient enough to worry about too much. Caveat venditor. You should have known better than to get into business in this market, right?

Underlying discriminatory practices of all stripes are bigoted beliefs (values?). Often draped in religious or nationalistic kayfabe, these are the proto-tribal instincts exploited by elites that in turn exploit out-groups for scurrilous ends. Discriminatory behavior is a symptom of bigoted belief. Legislation that obliges vendors (and vendors only) to refrain from discrimination (and only for enumerated classes, mind you) addresses symptoms without necessarily obviating the malady that gives rise to a certain desiccation of the marketplace.

Unfortunately, voters cannot legislate moral sentiments. That's the purview of suasion, of rhetoric. That's a task much more challenging than picking up a pen or making a phone call.

Fortunately, it's a task that appears to be proceeding apace. Public opinion seems to be shifting in the direction of LGBT tolerance and acceptance. So I suppose the analytical upshot of Arizona's legislation is that researchers will be able now to determine whether or not the ability of vendors to indulge bigotry will actually result in more instances of discrimination.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?