It amazes me to think how far we’ve come over the last 50 years, and yet how far it seems we still have to go.
All eyes were on Selma during the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, and rightfully so. The march that took place all those years ago brought national attention to the evil that is discrimination, and it changed our country forever. Those who marched and sacrificed made it possible to pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, ending Jim Crow and legalized segregation throughout the country.
And while there was much more to the movement that just that particular march, what took place in Selma became the rallying cry for justice. It is the event that turned the tide.
Unfortunately, the old adage that “history repeats itself” is proving itself true.
Yes, Jim Crow laws are dead. Even though there is still lingering racial tension, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s accomplished its goal of eliminating legal, institutional segregation and discrimination. But now our country is seeing the rise of a new form of legal discrimination, the likes of which we literally have not seen since the 1960s.
I am talking about the proposals being introduced in some states by Republican legislators to allow businesses to refuse service to homosexual customers based on religious grounds.
I was raised in the Baptist Church and was a Baptist for over 40 years. I am now a practicing Methodist. I believe, and will always believe, that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. And while I understand how some have very strong personal opinions on how they feel towards homosexuality, I have to point out that Jesus walked with all kinds: the leper, the thief and even the prostitute.
It is disturbing to see some politicians attempt to use the Bible to justify what they know is morally and legally wrong. Discrimination is evil, no matter how you try to justify it. Yet here we are, 50 years after Bloody Sunday, and we are still fighting a battle over allowing businesses to discriminate.
The New York Times recently reported that 14 states are either considering, have considered or have voted on bills that would allow people, citing their religious beliefs, to refuse service to gay customers. These laws would allow religious beliefs to be the legal justification for refusing to rent an apartment to a lesbian couple, or refusing to serve a pizza to a group of gay men.
Now that sounds an awful lot like Jim Crow to me. Except this time, instead of discriminating against a person because of the color of their skin, some politicians are looking at a person’s sexual orientation and deciding they are not worthy; deciding that because of whom they choose to love, they are not allowed the same basic freedoms as heterosexuals.
These laws would also reinstitute profiling. After all, how else can a business owner determine that a person is homosexual? The only way to know for sure is through profiling or if a customer volunteers that information about themselves.
Not only would laws like this be unconstitutional and morally wrong, they would also be harmful to our economy. Would businesses like Mercedes or Boeing maintain factories here if we still had racial segregation? Of course not!
America and Alabama have certainly come a long way since the 1960s. But it is ironic that at the same time our nation is celebrating 50 years since the end of institutionalized segregation and discrimination, we are seeing the exact same type of discriminatory legislation being reintroduced in states across the nation. Only this time the discrimination is targeting homosexuals.
Yes, the anniversary in Selma is a celebration of how far we’ve come in terms of civil rights. But to see legislation like this cropping up around the country from Republican legislators, I can’t help but think how far we still have to go.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.