Sen. Cotton Has Some Odd Ideas About Equality

Unfortunately, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton isn’t as concerned about the religious freedom measures in Indiana and Arkansas as, well, everybody else in the United States. When Cotton appeared on CNN’s The Situation Room on Wednesday, the show’s host Wolf Blitzer asked Cotton for his reaction on the religious freedom measure in his state. His response? We need to regain “perspective” on what our priorities truly are.

Apparently, anti-gay discrimination is not a priority for Cotton. He told Blitzer:

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed by former Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in his first year in office. These laws are modeled on that and a lot of the concerns of discrimination haven’t been borne to bear over the last 20 years. But I also think it’s important that we have a sense of perspective about our priorities.

Cotton’s point might be tenable if the law that just passed in Indiana and the one up for discussion in Arkansas actually were just like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) signed 20 years ago (although, on Thursday, Gov. Mike Pence swore to cut all discriminatory language from the act). But these bills are different. As The Atlantic points out, Indiana’s bill bears a few major differences from the federal RFRA and the laws in other states.

Unlike the federal law, Indiana explicitly offers protection to for-profit businesses, and allows the defense of religious freedom to be used even if the state is not involved and it’s a case between individuals. Moreover, the Indiana bill’s vague language has caused concern over how broadly the definition of religious freedom can be stretched under the law.

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But, according to Cotton, even if the LGBT community do face discrimination from the new laws, it could be a lot worse.

In Iran they hang you for the crime of being gay. They're currently imprisoning an American preacher for spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ in Iran. We should focus on the most important priorities that our country faces right now. And I would say that a nuclear armed Iran, given the threat it poses ... is the most important thing we could be focusing on right now.

Cotton’s assessment misses the entire point of the argument against the new religious freedom bills, and then some. Yes, there are other problems to be addressed in the country, but that does hardly implies that laws that open the door for discrimination should be allowed to slide by. The concerns about discrimination weren’t “borne to bear” in the last 20 years because the federal law did not allow the wiggle room for it.

However, these new laws aren't carbon copies of the federal RFRA. Indiana's bill contains different language and different allowances. Considering an Indiana pizza shop declared just days after the new Indiana bill passed that it would not cater to same-sex weddings, Cotton’s argument that discrimination isn’t going to be a problem is looking pretty null and void.

Come on, Tom Cotton — equality is a priority.