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Thursday, October 27, 2016

By Cathy Young, Newsday

The latest same-sex marriage skirmish is over a bill passed by the Arizona legislature and denounced as a modern-day equivalent of racist Jim Crow laws. The bill, which Gov. Jan Brewer hasn’t said if she will sign, would create a “religious freedom” exemption to discrimination laws, allowing business owners to refuse to provide marriage-related services that violate their religious beliefs. Similar laws are being considered in other states. Is this about bigotry or liberty? The issue is not as simple as either side claims — and the debate points to troubling cultural rifts that may well deepen in the years to come.

The proposed bills stem from cases in which photographers, florists and bakers have been sued under anti-discrimination laws for refusing wedding services to gay and lesbian couples. The defendants claim that providing support to a same-sex marriage would violate the tenets of their beliefs, which hold that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman. Under the legislation, they would be able to claim the religious exemption.

It’s easy to see why these bills, which seem specifically crafted to allow business owners to discriminate against a particular group, would stir up passions. But perhaps we should try to put ourselves in the shoes of people who have a very personal connection to their businesses and are asked to validate something that offends their conscience.

Suppose you’re a gay caterer hired to organize a banquet for an anti-gay religious group, or a feminist print-shop owner who gets an order for a pamphlet advocating wifely submission, or an Orthodox Jewish baker asked to make a cake for a Jewish-Christian wedding. And suppose laws prohibiting religious discrimination were so broadly construed that you would be in violation if you refused.

Do we see this situation differently? Is the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman — until recently common even in liberal circles — now presumed so bigoted as to deserve no consideration, even when the exercise of this belief does not actually keep gays from marrying?

Consistent libertarians argue that the solution is for the government to step back and let business owners decide whom they will serve. But, morality aside, this argument is pointless from a practical standpoint: The prohibition on private-sector discrimination based on such characteristics as race, gender, ethnicity and religion is now so deeply entrenched in our society and law that to change it would be severely destabilizing.

We face a conundrum. Either we will have laws that stigmatize gays, or we will marginalize traditional religious believers who still make up a large share of the U.S. population. One possibility is that religious traditionalists will increasingly withdraw from a mainstream culture they perceive as hostile into their own enclaves, leading to greater polarization between religious and secular citizens and the growth of radical fundamentalism. This would be a bad outcome for both religion and the larger culture.

Perhaps the best solution would be informal accommodation. Religious business owners who don’t want to participate in same-sex nuptials could refer gay clients to other providers. Civil rights groups could agree to look the other way and focus on battling more severe forms of discrimination. Let us not forget that in many states, same-sex couples are still denied not only marriage rights but even domestic partner benefits — and resistance to such rights is likely to intensify if there is a perceived threat to religious liberty.

We are at a juncture where both the public and the market are increasingly embracing gay rights. But such rapid change inevitably generates cultural conflict that could be eased by small measures of compromise.

Photo: Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press/MCT

  • charleo1

    The author is correct on one point. “The prohibition on private-sector discrimination based on such characteristics as race, gender, ethnicity and religion is now so deeply entrenched in our society and law that to change it would be severely destabilizing.” And on that overriding interest alone, Governor Brewer should veto the bill. But, this is not the first bill of it’s kind, she’s had to veto. And with same sex couples now marrying by the thousands all across the Nation. It’s time to stop this sort of legislation on a National level. Why? It’s bad law. It appeals to our worst inclinations, and since when is business owners, “validating,” the Gay lifestyle, by catering a reception, tailoring a tux, or baking the cake? The answer is, they’re not. The truer reason goes like this. I don’t like Gay people. I went out and voted for a ban on their weddings, and thought I had prevented them from receiving any of the other tax, insurance, and legal advantages my marriage affords me. Then, a judge strikes it all down, and now, they want me to bake them a cake? Just because I’m in the cake baking business!? Well Screw Them! Okay fine, some say. There are plenty of other caterers, tailors, and bakers. So, just take your business elsewhere. What’s the big deal? Just one more place the liberals want to push private business owners around. Well, that’s what they’re saying. And, as long as we’re confining the discrimination to wedding planners, and florists. It would be ugly, but not disruptive. But, it wouldn’t end there. What if it’s the service station in a small town you’re traveling through? The one motel with a vacancy? A restaurant? Sorry, we don’t serve your kind around here, would be very disruptive, and potentially dangerous. So, if this law were to pass, and be adopted in other States. In the interest of safety, they should be required to post their anti-gay policies, or any other people they feel doing business with would abridge their religious freedoms, right up front. Right out there on their sign by the highway. Next to their add on the internet. Wherever, and whenever they advertise their services. “We’re Christians Here Neighbor!” “Come on in for our world famous hospitality!” NO COMMUNISTS, GAYS, MUSLIMS, LIBERALS, AND BLACKS, PULL YOUR PANTS UP!

  • Daniel Jones

    Marriage is a legal contract. It’s linked to religion, but it’s legal or it’s not. This precedent is especially notable in America, as bigamy laws trumped the *religious* objections of a sect of Mormons over a century ago.

    Therefore, the Arizona law does not actually allow any discrimination at all, but it is meant to fool everyone with legalese. Ignore it, and keep on suing if they refuse service or services.

  • Sand_Cat

    Funny how the consciences of these “deeply religious” people never prohibit them from hating, lying, working on the sabbath, or otherwise seriously inconvenience them. Funny how that one verse of Leviticus is unbreakable, eternal law, the most important one in the whole Bible, but they can freely ignore the rest of that book and most of the good and wise things found elsewhere in the collection (not to say that Leviticus has a monopoly on the murderous, petty, cruel, genocidal, and just plain stupid, which occur in most of the “books,” even those with the wise and good).

    • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

      A couple of years ago, a group of Seventh Day Adventists tried to get the Post Office to change delivery day to a town where they represented a significant portion of the population. Because Saturday was specifically a sacred day to them, they tried to demand the USPS NOT deliver on Saturday, but to deliver to their homes on Sunday. The USPS replied Saturday deliveries would continue. All they had to do was not open their mailboxes until Sunday. Who says the Post Office doesn’t have a sense of humor?

      • Sand_Cat


        Unfortunately, that’s probably one of the reasons the GOP wants to destroy them.

  • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

    I want the religious freedom to sacrifice a bull to Mithras, as my ancestors who probably served in the Roman Legions did. I also want the freedom to take an enemy and sacrifice him to Óðinn Valföðr as my Norse ancestors did! And to sacrifice victims to Crom Cruach as my Irish ancestors did! Ain’t it great being an American of mixed ethnic heritage? We have all sorts of blood loving gods to chose from!

    • Sand_Cat

      I’m considering converting to the worship of the Hindu goddess Kali: I can sacrifice “Christian” religious bigots to her.
      On second thought, it seems likely she wouldn’t consider such deaths much of a “sacrifice” on my part.
      Well, then: there’s the Aztec god Huitzilopochli. Over 100,000 had their hearts cut out at the dedication of his temple in Tenochtitlan.

      • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

        Kali worship is pretty cool. Problem is the appropriate deaths are by strangulation. You can use a garrote, though, in case your hands aren’t strong enough.
        As for Huitzilopochli, you need a decent obsidian knife to perform those sacrifices.

  • latebloomingrandma

    As a Catholic, I worried about the “slippery slope” effect of the exemption to the ACA granting a waiver to religious organizations providing contraception in their health care plans. I could see it for Churches and schools up to the 12th grade, as part of their curriculum and practive is religious instruction. AS for Catholic colleges, I don’t think a course in Catholicism is required, nor do students have to be Catholics. In Catholic hospitals, patients are not required to be Catholic or required to receive pastoral services by a chaplain if they don’t want it. Therefore, while they are associated with a religious institution, their mission as far as I can see, is not to promote the dogma, but just to minister to people as a matter of social justice and inclusiveness.
    In hospitals, employees are not required to be Catholic. I don’t think it is required in colleges unless teaching religion or associated courses. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.
    One of the things I was concerned about during the contraceptive controversy, what will hospitals and colleges do when same sex marriage is legalized and an employee seeks benefits for a spouse? Now it is trying to go further to embrace any business owner who professes “religious” objection. Another instance that proves businesses are not “people.” A business is an organization or entity who seeks to engage in commerce in a FREE country, in which anyone with the purchasing power should be free to obtain that product or service, or to be paid for providing such with money or benefits.
    In my opinion.