San Jose Mercury News Scott Herhold: California travel ban: Progress for LGBT

By Scott Herhold

Sometimes it takes criticism from another quarter to make you understand your own beliefs. That’s the way I feel about California’s ban on official travel to states that are seen as hostile to LGBT rights.

When California’s new law went into effect at the beginning of the year, it banned paid travel by state employees to Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee. I saw it as a symbolic move that did not offer much grist for a columnist. The culture wars tire me.

Now Attorney General Xavier Becerra has added Alabama, Kentucky, South Dakota and Texas to the list. And on social media and elsewhere, the red states have retaliated with mocking attacks at California’s political correctness.

“It’s funny how the very state that is so adamantly against keeping terrorists out of our country — they opposed the president’s travel ban — now wants to keep California out of Texas,” said Marc Rylander, the communications director for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. “I guess that’s California logic.”

Now I’ve always liked Texans. They speak their mind and they’re unafraid to be quoted. I understand politics, too, and attacking California is always good politics in the South.

But Rylander’s comment departs so far from logic that I’m tempted to say that California should warn citizens away from the Texas attorney general’s office.

Aside from the words “travel ban,” there is no real comparison between the president’s travel ban from Muslim countries and a California law written by Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Cupertino, to emphasize commitment to LGBT rights.

Donald Trump’s order affects broad classes of people, curtailing their freedom for things not in their control. California’s travel ban is narrowly crafted — it affects publicly-funded travel by state employees — and the states on the banned list have the power to change their approach to LGBT rights. Sacramento is not trying to say that Californians cannot visit Texas on their own.

Is the California law perfect? No. It leaves a lot to interpretation. And Gov. Jerry Brown seemed to flout its intent with a trip to China, which bans gay marriage and does not extend the same kind of rights to its LGBT citizens.

(California’s law does include a few exceptions, like trips meant to retain grant funding or collections, or necessary travel by law enforcement. The attorney general’s office said Friday it has yet to issue an opinion on whether the ban will eventually apply to athletic staff members from UC and CSU, which could affect games.)

But the criticism from the banned states ignores history. A resolution from Tennessee lawmakers, for example, says, “we urge the other 48 states to refrain from imposing their unfounded moral judgment on their sister states as California has done to prevent escalating foolishness.”

Unfounded? Almost anyone who has grown up gay or lesbian or transgender can tell you stories of prejudice and bullying they have faced. As the most successful civil rights movement of the last four decades, the cause of gay rights has relied on the willingness to confront that prejudice directly — in large part by coming out of the closet.

California’s travel ban to the eight states is a modest thing, a symbolic rather than an economic weapon. But the criticism it engenders should remind us of where we stand. The defense of civil rights is a moral judgment, yes, and one that all Americans ought to share