Hardly a week goes by without at least one person asking me why I chose to leave sunny Florida for gray, cold and snowy Michigan. I typically go through a long list of reasons — I hated the hot weather, alligators are scary, no one has any ambition, there are giant pictures of fetuses on the side of the highway and intolerant religious zealots hold way too much influence in the state’s government and society at large. I finally stumbled upon an article in The Palm Beach Post to which I can direct people when they ask me why I came here. Summarizing my frustration with Florida in one headline, it is entitled, “Florida bill to reward ‘family-friendly’ films is derided as 1950s-style moral censorship.”
According to Florida law, “family-friendly” films are currently eligible to receive a tax credit worth two percent of their production costs. The incentive program is designed to bring filmmakers to the state and create jobs all the while promoting a “wholesome” society. Florida state Rep. Stephen Precourt (R–Orlando) — whose district includes Walt Disney World — is leading the push to expand the credit to five percent and exclude productions that exhibit “nontraditional family values.” Questioned about his motives, Precourt said, “think of it as like Mayberry,” referring to the fictional setting “The Andy Griffith Show” in which minorities were seen, not heard — if they were even portrayed at all — and all women embodied stereotypical homemaker roles.
The broader point of the tax credit is to portray “nontraditional” family values — any family without one mother and one father — as some sort of immoral affront to society that must be excluded from the benefits that “traditional” families are entitled to. This is, at its core, just another attempt by the religious right to engineer society according to its own moral sentiments. To put this in perspective, the movie “Confessions of a Shopaholic” was deemed too violent for the “family-friendly” credit because two women fought over a pair of shoes.
Discrimination, as you all know, isn’t limited to the South. People who don’t uphold the “traditional values” are treated as less than human by society’s self-appointed morality police, who hold a disproportionate influence over government policy.
Last semester, I wrote a viewpoint for the Daily as an open letter to the president of the American Family Association of Michigan, Gary Glenn. (AFA has extreme views on family values, 10/27/2009) I responded to his assertion that the Daily’s editorial staff was “so far left and so intractably intolerant of those with a diversity of opinion on this issue that they really do think anyone who dares disagree with them… really are just a bunch of hatemongers.” This is an organization that boycotted Disney because it provided health care for gay employees’ partners and that encourages members to shop only at stores that say “Merry Christmas” and not those that say “Happy Holidays.” An organization “so intractably intolerant” exists in this state and it, along with its “pro-family” allies, have been influential in upholding — and extending — the institutional discrimination consistently faced by members of the LGBT community across the country.
Some of these groups’ antics border so closely to the insane that they even appear comical at times. But discrimination must be eliminated — and there is no shortage of it to be rooted out. The most egregious example is the Marriage Protection Amendment tacked on to Michigan’s constitution in 2004. This barred same-sex couples from the 1,138 rights, privileges and benefits of marriage, according to a 2004 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The amendment has engendered several problems stemming from the lack of legal structure that comes with marriage. For example, when two partners raise a child together, there is no recourse for the non-biological parent to assert custody even if he or she played an equal role in the child’s life since his or her birth. This was exactly what happened to Michigan’s own Renee Harmon, who must now go to court to fight for the right to see the children she had raised for a decade.
It doesn’t stop there. Discrimination against gay people is so engrained that they are prevented from openly serving in the armed forces to protect a country that actively denies them equal treatment. And yet, still many serve, hiding their sexual orientations from those around them to protect those who call their lifestyle immoral and wrong.
Tax policies shouldn’t be used as an arm of the “pro-family” movement to indoctrinate children via films and re-engineer our culture based on its concept of “traditional” values. Instead of accepting the treatment of members of the LBGT community as second-class citizens, it is imperative that we shun arbitrary definitions of “traditional” and “pro-family” values and see them for what they are: discrimination in disguise.
Alex Schiff is an assistant editorial page editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.