Here’s an idea for politicians seeking to turn themselves into statesmen: let’s legalize discrimination against Mississippians.
Turnabout is fair play, right? Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, is it not? Standing against the tide of states like Georgia and West Virginia that recently rejected hate legislation, Mississippi just enacted an extraordinarily sweeping law giving carte blanche to anyone who wants to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. So we know Mississippi can dish it out—can Mississippi take it?
Don’t sit back smugly and think, “Well, I’m straight, so this doesn’t affect me.” That’s decidedly unhumanistic, plus the bill condones discrimination against anyone, straight or gay, who has ever committed sex before or outside of heterosexual marriage. That covers quite a few of us, don’t you think?
Why the difference between Georgia and Mississippi? One difference is that the governor of Georgia, even though he’s a devout evangelical Christian and a strong conservative, appears to be a decent human being. The governor of Mississippi, on the evidence of this legislation, isn’t.
Another difference is that Georgia had something to lose. Major corporations do business in Georgia. The film industry is huge there. The Super Bowl is played there from time to time. So they had to sit up and pay attention when the generally rational people who run our major corporations said they had no tolerance for intolerance. But Mississippi? It has no major league professional sports teams. Not a single Fortune 500 company headquarters. It has the lowest student test scores, the fattest bellies, the worst infant mortality rates, and the highest proportion of the population on food stamps of any of the fifty states. By some odd coincidence, it’s also the most religious state. Reason and tolerance have nowhere near the influence in Mississippi that they had in Georgia.
The governors of Vermont and New York just banned non-essential state travel to Mississippi. Now there’s a useless gesture. No one goes to Mississippi anyway, so what’s the point? It would make more sense to focus on travel in the opposite direction. Maybe we could follow Donald Trump’s lead: we could build a wall around Mississippi, cut off all emigration from Mississippi to the civilized other forty-nine, and deport the glut of Mississippians already infecting the other forty-nine back to Mississippi. Could we get Mississippi to pay for such a wall? Nah, they don’t have any money. Maybe Trump could get Mexico to pay for it. Or, we could listen to Ted Cruz, and set up extra police patrols in neighborhoods where Mississippians are known to congregate. Trailer parks are natural candidates.
Of course that would be extreme, so I suggest a middle ground. Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we should flatter Mississippi by doing something like they just did: pass laws allowing anyone whose conscience so demands it to discriminate against people who have the poor judgment to be Mississippian. Housing, employment, use of rest rooms, you name it: if in good conscience you don’t want to serve a Mississippian, no one should make you do it.
But, bleeding hearts might say, being Mississippian isn’t a conscious choice—people are born that way. Maybe that’s true. But the same pseudo-psychology industry that claims to be able to deprogram people from being gay could perhaps be modified to deprogram people from being Mississippian, giving them a wholesome alternative to their sordid, shameful Mississippi lifestyle.
That’s a detail we can worry about later. What’s important now is to protect the tender consciences of those who just can’t stand the thought of serving a hot dog or renting a room to anyone from a state as bigoted as Mississippi—much less allowing such a disgusting person to remain on an employer’s payroll.
Mississippi, of course, has a long history of other types of discrimination on religious grounds. It was 1960s Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett who once called God “the original segregationist.” I’m not one to defend racial segregation, but at least segregationists paid lip service to the premise of “separate but equal” accommodations for blacks and whites. The bill just signed by Governor Phil Bryant doesn’t even do that. It allows outright denial of service to LGBTQ individuals and other sex-committers without any alternative accommodation at all.
Am I being unfair to all Mississippians because of the actions of a few? Are the ideas here ridiculous? Of course. Some of my best friends are from Mississippi. (Actually, they’re not, but it’s the thought that counts.) But it’s the governor and legislature of Mississippi that started down the path away from “live and let live,” not me. They need to think harder about where that path is going to lead them.