Friday, February 21, 2014

Law and Marriage and Gay and Arizona

Arizona's at it again.

First, they drafted legislation in the hopes of combating illegal immigration.  But their result was so poorly-written, many experts feared it gave law enforcement agencies an open invitation to racially profile Hispanics.

Now, they've sent to Governor Jan Brewer's desk a bill that would allow business owners to deny service to homosexuals if the business owners believe having gays for customers defiles their religious scruples.  It's a piece of legislation about sex, religion, and money that yet again represents a state's response to a broader debate in our national narrative.  Which means it won't really solve much of anything.

This broader debate in our national narrative began after disturbing news reports emerged about photographers, cake bakers, and other professionals in the wedding industry being sued by gay couples who wanted their services for their same-sex nuptials.  Where's the line between respecting freedom of religion, conservative small-business owners are asking, and the expectations of people whose morality doesn't match the religion in question?

And frankly, it's a good question.  If I was a wedding photographer, for example, while I would not be able to ensure that all of the weddings I photographed would be God-honoring, I'd at least know that if I had two people of the same gender exchanging vows before my camera lens, it would not be honoring to God.  Why can't the law protect me from violating a basic tenet of my faith?

Now, this Arizona legislation is unclear about how far any denial of service can extend.  For example, if the same gay couple wanted me to do their generic portraiture, instead of their wedding, that could be quite different.  Two people in the same photo?  Wouldn't I be discriminating in an illegal fashion by refusing to take their portrait, since while the photo may be capturing a reality with which I might not agree, photographers capture plenty of images with which they might not personally agree?  Can I deny their request to take a photo of two people sitting next to each other, simply because they're both in love with each other?  It's like the Southern Baptists protesting Disney:  When should morality be used to demarcate appropriate business decisions, and when doesn't it matter?  I may believe homosexuality to be a sin, but what about fat people, for instance?  If they're fat because of gluttony, which is a sin, should I refuse to photograph them, too?

However, if a gay couple wanted me to photograph them having sex, couldn't I decline that commission as legally as I could any heterosexual couple asking me to do the same thing?  Doesn't personal conscience already come into play in some of these decisions already?

Indeed, how are discrepancies currently resolved between what a client may want some small business to do for them, and the rights of refusal that small businesses have for complying with what their customer wants?  If a bakery owned by modest people received an order for a cake shaped as some sort of phallic symbol, surely they'd have the right to turn down such a request.  I understand it would be illegal - as well as immoral - for those bakers to deny a heterosexual, bi-racial couple's commission of a wedding cake with little statuettes of contrasting skin tones.  But what if a Jewish couple walked into a bakery owned by a devout Muslim and asked for a cake shaped like the Star of David?

Okay, now we're getting a little bit off of the topic, aren't we?  Or... are we?  Why would a Jewish couple walk into a Muslim bakery and expect the owner to bake them something with which the owner might feel uncomfortable?  Why would a gay couple ask a staunchly Christian baker to create a wedding cake for their wedding, other than to try and make a point?  A mean-spirited point?  How much of this whole debate is more vitriol than virtue on the part of gay marriage lobbyists?  Aren't there any gay bakers in the business?

But... just letting gays planning their wedding use gay wedding professionals sounds like the same argument lots of liberals shoot at conservatives who complain about sex and violence on TV and at the movies.  "Well, just don't choose to consume entertainment you consider raunchy," they retort to our sensitivities.  But if we told gays to do that with their weddings, that would be allowing the Christian bakers to legally perpetuate their bias, wouldn't it?  Their hatred?  Their discrimination of gays?  And there's no bias, hatred, or discrimination of faithful Christians on the part of gay marriage advocates here, is there?

And that's the rub, isn't it?

No matter what happens with this Arizona legislation, it still comes down to which is more important in our society:  the rights of people to honor their religious beliefs, or the rights of people to deny religious people their rights.  Gay marriage isn't the issue as much as intolerance.  Only, whose intolerance will win?  The intolerance of people who consider faith crucial to their worldview, or the intolerance of people for whom faith is of secondary importance at best?

How you answer the question is based entirely on the answer you choose, isn't it?

Meanwhile, has it ever occurred to anybody that forcing somebody to do something against their personal beliefs isn't the best method of ever bringing them around to your way of thinking?  Whether it's Arizona's Republicans, who are trying to legislate protections against gay marriage, or gay marriage advocates, who say Arizona's proposed law violates their civil rights.  If anything, this debate proves we can't legislate morality, doesn't it?  Unless gay marriage advocates really don't care about the message of intolerance they convey to heterosexual marriage defenders, and simply want the law to say what they want it to say.  And if that's the case, then with public sentiment apparently turning in favor of allowing gay marriage anyway, the laws may soon tilt that way as well.

With liberal anger over Arizona's maneuvers to the contrary fueling the charge.

But forcing people to comply with a law isn't the same as affirmation, is it?  Maybe with more mundane civic issues, such as DWI laws, legislating morality doesn't need to be affirming.  But when it comes to your wedding, isn't that what you're really after?

Would you hire an exceptionally grieved, joyless photographer to be in the same room, taking your picture, as you exchange vows with the love of your life?  Would you stick a gun to the head of your baker and force them to bake you a cake for your wedding?

I doubt any heterosexual couple would.  Why would gay ones?


  1. (Sorry, had formatting problems, deleted the original post)

    Two points, if I may, one on the legislation itself, the other on your comments about then on your analysis of the situation.

    This piece of risible legislation is so broadly worded that anyone, claiming religious scruples, can deny anyone else practically anything.

    The bill states that ""Exercise of religion" means the practice or observance of religion, including the ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief."

    All you have to do to deny service in any form or fashion is a) state that your action or refusal to act is motivated by a religious belief, and b) that your belief is "sincerely (!!) held".

    There is something called the Law of Unintended Consequences, and it might be amusing to see how this plays out in Arizona, but frankly, this is such broad wording that you could have wiccans being denied (civil) marriage documents, adulterers routine medical treatment, etc and so forth. And, given that Arizona is part of the USA, a country well known for its intolerance of diversity in anything other than religion, would anyone take a wager otherwise?

    On the issue of "which is more important in our society: the rights of people to honor their religious beliefs, or the rights of people to deny religious people their rights", I think you may be overstating the point.

    A) Let us assume you are living in a small town in Arizona. You turn up to the local store to buy food, and the owner refuses your business because you're an atheist. The nearest alternative store is some miles away in the next town, where you work; you go there to encounter the same. Only by finding, say, a Walmart can you finally buy food.

    And B) I would take issue with your use of "religious rights". What religious "rights"? Most civilised countries (including the USA) have religious freedoms - you are free to worship as you please, etc, but most are wary of any religious "rights", as rights require some element of government or enforcement. (Alternatively, you could consider freedoms to be a subset of rights. For example, as a young child, I may have the freedom not to take a bath, but my mother has the right to make me.)

    Now, I agree with your comments that why on earth would a gay couple wish to employ someone seething with resentment to take their photos, but the legislation, as it stands, is much, much broader than this.


    1. Thank you for your feedback, Edmund.

      I am aware that the legislation appears to be broad in scope. Too broad, in fact, to withstand the inevitable appeals. Just like the legislation regarding illegal immigration, this anti-gay-marriage law is sloppy and poorly-crafted.

      But I'm not a lawyer (even if Arizona's legislature is apparently full of poorly-trained ones) so I didn't want to get into that aspect of it. I tried to sum up my reservations with this sentence: "Now, this Arizona legislation is unclear about how far any denial of service can extend." And yes, I could have taken the time to define my terms between "freedoms" and "rights."

      However, my main goal was to explore the mentality among SOME (not all) in the gay marriage campaign that has led to this legislation in the first place. To me, it seems that the institution of marriage to them has simply become a pawn in a larger attempt to force conservative Christians to admit homosexuality in general isn't a sin after all.

      And that would be about as effective as this law Republicans have proposed, don't you think?

      Thanks again for the feedback. This is one issue we know will not be going away.


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