Since November of 2012, 10 new states have legalized same-sex marriage by court decision, legislation or popular referendum. Pending appeal, Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Virginia are poised to j oin them in the next couple of years. In reaction to this tremendous push forward, several state legislatures are trying to pull us back to the 1960s.
Idaho, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Arizona have all put forward similar legislation that seeks to promote “religious freedom” by allowing anyone from small business owners to emergency responders to deny service based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. So far, Arizona’s is the only one to have passed a state congress.
While these laws have grabbed national headlines, they are just the most outrageous examples of a nationwide response to the changing social attitude towards marriage equality. Last year, in my home state of Minnesota, the Minnesota Family Council successfully lobbied against an anti-bullying law on the grounds that it would be a “gross intrusion on parental autonomy and religious freedom.”
At the core of all these fights is a very specific claim: By making laws against anti-gay bullying or discrimination, we are violating the “religious freedom” of people who want to bully and discriminate.
Religious freedom means you get to believe whatever you want. Religious freedom means you are free to practice your religion to the extent that it does not harm others.
Religious freedom does not mean you may discriminate against whomever you wish, provided you cite your religion on the “straights only” sign in your storefront window.
For the moment, let’s set aside the obvious comparison to Jim Crow era laws and explore the religious freedom issue in more depth. What do these lawmakers mean by religious freedom? What in their mind is being violated? Why do they feel so persecuted by marriage equality?
Does their religion require them to discriminate against homosexuals? Probably not. Most forms of Christianity consider homosexuality to be a sin, but a sin on par with any other, not worthy of special attention. Even those extreme denominations that do protest too much typically adopt a “hate the sin, love the sinner” mantra.
What about freedom of religious expression? Are wedding cake bakery owners being compelled to support a practice their religion rejects as invalid? No. They are being compelled to provide the same service to all paying customers regardless of race, gender, religion or orientation. This concept has well-established legal precedent, upheld by the Supreme Court in many cases including Rumsfeld v. FAIR, Employment Division v. Smith, and Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States.
Are they worried they are going to be forced to violate the tenants of their religion? It may very well be the case that they feel that way, but the fact remains they are not being forced to change religious beliefs. When California passes a law mandating priests perform gay weddings, they have my permission to complain about violation of religious liberty.
The simple fact is if you own or operate a place of public accommodation, you are - and should be - required to equally offer your goods and services to all people. If your religion for some reason does not permit you to fulfill that civic duty, then I must ask why you are in the profession in the first place. What would we think of an outspoken vegan working at a slaughterhouse?
Here’s a suggestion to those concerned: Instead of trying to waste time and money writing blatantly unconstitutional legislation in a flailing attempt to cut off your state from the rest of civilization, just take the gay wedding gig. Donate all your earnings from the event to the National Organization for Marriage, American Family Association, Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel or some other ironically named advocacy group.
In fact, announce publicly that you plan to do that. I suspect you won’t have a problem with any more homosexuals asking for your business, and they won’t have to deal with you at their wedding. Everyone gets what they want without legalizing segregation.
Collin Boots is a master’s student studying robotics from Redwood Falls, Minn. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @LotOfTinyRobots.