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In Arizona, Is It Ethics or Economics?

posted: 3.3.14 by Donna Winchell

As I write, Arizona governor Jan Brewer is debating whether or not to sign into law a bill that would make it lawful for business owners to refuse service to gays and lesbians if they object to doing so on religious grounds. Arguments on both sides of the issue are ripe for analysis. One obvious question is how they will know. A person’s sexual orientation is not always obvious. A former male colleague who is straight asked if a restaurant run by one of these business owners would refuse him service if he went to lunch with a male friend. It’s reminiscent of Arizona’s “show me your papers” immigration bill that has been condemned because it leads to ethnic profiling. And how would a business owner “prove” that his objection to having gay or lesbian clients is grounded in religion? A claim of policy in favor of the bill would be difficult to support partly because the bill would be difficult to enforce. Parallels have been drawn between these business owners and those who refused to serve blacks before the passage of civil rights legislation.

What support do opponents of the bill offer? A major argument against the bill seems to be that it will be bad for the economy. The fact that it’s discriminatory seems to get less play than the possibility that the state could lose the Super Bowl next year. Yes, it would be bad for the economy, but for the “right” reasons. The impact on the economy would be a direct result of the discriminatory nature of the legislation. Claim: This bill should be vetoed. Support: It will be bad for Arizona’s economy. Warrant: A bill bad for Arizona’s economy should be vetoed. Why would it be bad for Arizona’s economy? Because those who feel the new bill is discriminatory would take their business elsewhere.

These issues are fertile ground for helping our students see how what we teach applies to very real happenings in their world. The same considerations that Aristotle brought to bear on issues in his day still apply today, and Toulmin’s elements of argument can give students a language for talking about what they agree with and what they disagree with. This seems one case where Rogers’ search for middle ground seems less applicable although the power of the purse weighs heavily on both sides.

[Photo Credit: Gay Pride 225 by Guillaume Paumier; Fliker]

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