Mr. and Mrs. Mandel felt they were becoming forgetful and signed up for a class that guaranteed to help improve memory. When they’d completed the course they raved to all of their friends and neighbors about how wonderful it was and how many things they’d learned.
Several months later as Mr. Mandel tackled some yard work a neighbor approached and asked, “Hey, who was the instructor who taught the memory course you took?”
“I need to think about this a minute,” Mr. Mandel said as he tapped his forehead with his finger.
Several minutes passed before Mr. Mandel asked, “What is the name of the flower that smells really good?”
“Lots of flowers smell good,” the neighbor answered.
“Yeah I know, but this one comes in all sorts of colors and has thorny stems.”
“You mean a rose?” the neighbor said.
“Yes!” Mr. Mandel replied and then turned toward his house and shouted, “Hey Rose, honey, what was the name of that teacher we had for that memory class?”
It can be easy to forget and need reminders.
This week we have been given a reminder that the work of equality is not yet over.
Here is our own state of California with achieving marriage equality by the Court last June we assume that the fight for equality is over. And we move on living our lives with relative ease on the freedom front. And we forget how difficult the struggle through the years to have protections in housing and jobs. We forget quickly the days of the Briggs initiative that wanted to remove gay teachers from the classroom.
And then right next door. We and our neighbors in Arizona are jarred from the euphoria of the rolling tide of marriage equality across America, to a new attack on LGBT Americans under the guise of religious freedom. The new bill that passed the Arizona legislature would, like the Citizens United Supreme Court Ruling, give Arizona businesses and corporations, individual rights to discriminate against LGBT people. No need to serve a gay couple in a restaurant Tuscon. No longer does a Sedona hotel have to honor your reservation if you’re a lesbian. No Tucson or Temple store has to have you in their store.
This Senate bill 1062 has been pushed by the very Conservative Center for Arizona Policy.
It seems that in the latest attempt to figure out how to discriminate against gay and lesbian people and those perceived to be gay and lesbian, Arizona legislators forgot the application of the United States Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause. Does the First Amendment that calls for Religious Freedom and Freedom from the government establishing religion trump equality and freedom in the public sphere?
Seems like Mr. Mandel isn’t alone in forgetting.
This Arizona bill is not that much different from those introduced in several other states this week. Hawaii, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Mississippi have introduced broader “religious freedom” bills with a unique provision that would also allow people to deny services or employment to LGBT Americans, legal experts say.
We also saw Kansas pass equally heinous legislation pass the Kansas house which was thankfully killed by the Kansas Senate President. The bill, which covered both private businesses and individuals, including government employees, would have barred same-sex couples from suing anyone who denies them food service, hotel rooms, social services, adoption rights, or employment—as long as the person denying the service said he or she had a religious objection to homosexuality. HB 2453, allowed individuals, groups, and private businesses to refuse service to gay couples, fire gay people, and even block entry to buildings to folks based purely on their sexuality, ”a blank check to discriminate.” The legislation was centered specifically around marriage and other forms of unions by same-sex couples, but because it was written to preserve “religious liberty,” all individual employees can use their own religion to justify discrimination — including cops, teachers, nurses, pharmacists, hotel owners, and doctors alike. Gay people could be banished from public life, one by one, employee by employee and business by business. No gay people in the park, no gay people in the grocery store, no gay people in hospitals or schools.
People who attempted, as they inevitably would, to challenge anti-gay discrimination would get stuck paying the lawyer fees for their opponents. The legislation would bring a new era of segregation in Kansas. ”If the bill passes,” Lisbeth Hunter wrote for Ryot, ”gay people won’t be able to feel safe anywhere.” As of this week, the legislation was dead in the Senate. But the Kansas bill is not a one-state try. Republicans in Idaho, Oregon, South Dakota, and Tennessee recently introduced provisions that mimic the Kansas legislation.
Even as the Oregon State Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum ( a member of Reform Congregation Beth Israel in Portland) refused to defend the state in upholding the marriage ban, equality for lgbt people take a few steps forward, only to find others that want to hold us back.
Just because we are comfortable here in California we cannot forget that freedom is not won by sitting on our laurels.
And not just in our country but the hate and discrimination that is being fomented in Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, the Congo and other countries around the world-pit those in the former Soviet sphere against the West—in a twisted replay of the Cold War with LGBT rights being one of the defining issues. Do not think for one moment that Mr. Putin’s calculations are only based on a hatred of LGBT people-it is his way to distinguish himself from the policies of the American and European spheres of power.
So what can we do? We who sit here in the comfort of California? With laws to protect us in jobs and housing. With the freedom to marry and adopt children. To have our gay kids protected in school from bullying and harassment- How blessed we are.
But we dare not be silent.
So get out your phones… The Governor of Arizona-Jan Brewer’s office number is (602) 542-4331. I want you to take out your phone right now. (520) 628-6580
Or send an email right now to firstname.lastname@example.org – Dear Gov. Brewer.
I am writing to you to protest SB1062 that would discriminiate against LGBT people under the so-called “freedom of religion”. But discrimination in the public sphere is what this bill will promote.
I urge you to veto this heinous act. This isn’t religious freedom but old fashioned hate hiding behind government permission. Please veto SB 1062.
This week’s Torah portion Vayakhel- Moses gathers all the people of Israel together. To execute the plans for the building of the Tabernacle. He does this after last week’s fiasco—when the people built an idol, the golden calf as a way to see God in their midst once Moses went up to Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. But without visible proof the people afraid, already forgot the Ten Commandments and specifically the commandment that said-Make no graven images!
And out of the shattering of the first set of Commandment, Moses and God realize that there must be a sign in their midst so that the People of Israel don’t forget.
And so with the Help of Bezalel and Ohaliab the people come together to build the Mishkan, the place where God would dwell among them.
God still dwells among us today. In our acts of social justice, in the hearts of our neighbors. As Rabbi Yossi teaches in Pirke Avot: Let you neighbor’s property be as dear to you as your own. And as the Mishnah further teaches us: May your neighbor’s honor be as dear to you as your own.
On this Shabbat –let us act on behalf of not only ourselves-but our neighbors. Act for equality and justice and freedom wherever our neighbor dwells.