By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter
With all the challenges facing the Alabama Legislature – a need for prison reform, a broke Medicaid system, apparent widespread corruption – some lawmakers seem awfully focused on non-issues that basically are intended to bash the state’s LGBTQ community.
Our politicians never get tired of these hot-button issues: Let’s get rid of undocumented immigrants; let’s close our borders to Islamist refugees; let’s make sure Birmingham can’t raise its own minimum wage or become a Sanctuary City.
And then, of course, there are them gays. Them men who like men and them women who like women and them men or women who think they’re women or men. You know, them people.
At least two gay-bashing bills are before the Legislature. Both are terrible proposals, but then, terrible has never stopped the Alabama Legislature.
Alabama doesn’t even mind not being first with these bad ideas. A few years ago, it was HB56, the anti-immigrant law that intended to outdo Arizona’s anti-immigrant law. After that hate-legislation passed, the federal courts pretty much tossed it out, about the gazillionth time the federal courts have forced Alabama to play nice over the years.
Now, there is the so-called “Alabama Privacy Act,” which will regulate access to public restrooms inside businesses. The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) just doesn’t learn. The bill “portends” to “provide security to the public at large” by regulating, of all things, toilets.
A similar bill passed in North Carolina cost that state millions of dollars in economic development. That’s a worry for Alabama business leaders as well. The conservative Business Council of Alabama, along with other business groups, strongly opposes the measure.
“Alabama has many challenges, the least of them is bathrooms,” said BCA President William Canary in an AL.com report.
Rep. Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) said quite plainly that Williams’ bill is “a solution in search of a problem.”
Like that’s never happened before in Alabama.
Another anti-LGBTQ bill in the chute is the so-called “Religious Liberty” bill that has already been approved by the House Health Committee.
Why is it that bills tagged “Religious Liberty” almost always have a bigoted purpose? This bill, sponsored by state Rep. Rich Wingo (R-Tuscaloosa) would protect the freedom of religiously affiliated adoption agencies that refuse to place a child with same-sex parents.
What’s next? Prohibiting an African-American couple from adopting a white child or Latino child? Stopping a Church of Christ couple from adopting a child whose mother is Catholic?
Study after study has shown that children raised by same-sex parents do just as well as children raised by heterosexual couples. As reported by New Jersey’s Golden Cradle Adoption Services, an analysis of 15 such studies by Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston found that “factors such as self-esteem, relationship with peers, intelligence, behavior, and gender identity were the same whether children were raised by heterosexual couples or by same-sex couples.”
With as many children as there are who need good parents, why would the state pass a law that limits the ability of any qualified couple, same-sex or otherwise, to adopt?
Meanwhile, some observers said the bill, if passed, could jeopardize more than $40 million in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, though Wingo disagrees with that.
But we know what pushes these kinds of bills. It’s not “religious liberty” or the fear that some transgender individual is going to molest somebody in a public bathroom.
It’s bigotry and homophobia and, sadly, for too many Alabamians, that strikes a chord.
There’s so much that’s important that the state needs to take care of rather than to spend time on bills that their sponsors cynically hope will just help them get re-elected. We have much to do, lots to fix, plenty to improve.
Let’s hope lawmakers focus on what really matters, and not on legislation that clearly discriminates against thousands of Alabama residents.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.