Protecting Faith or Legalising Discrimination?

IMG_7249Anyone keeping up with American news lately may have noticed the things going on here are a little … crazy.  Indiana, North Carolina, Mississippi … these ‘bathroom bills’ and ‘religious freedom bills’ and what have you, yes?

First, let me just chastise both sides a little bit:

LGBT • just because a business has the right to do something doesn’t mean they will.  There’re too many getting a little too carried away here.  Histrionics and hyperbole are fine in satire, like a SNL sketch, but it’s not good in an otherwise simply rhetorical article that’s trying to explain the problem unless you clearly indicate that you are following this to its extremity of possibility.

Anti-LGBT • I would like to mention that there has been protection for religious beliefs since the adoption of the US Constitution‘s first ten amendments, it reads thusly:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

(via https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment)

So, now, on to what I have to say.

It’s bullshit.  I’m sorry, but it is.  It’s all complete crap.

If this really had to do with people being upset about their sincerely held religious beliefs then where are the following:

  • People rallying behind a photographer who refuses to take a Buddhist wedding
  • The bakery that refuses the interracial couple
  • The clerk turning away the Jewish couple
  • The judge who won’t officiate the atheist couple
  • The restaurant that won’t serve a Mexican family
  • The auto repair shop that won’t accept black customers

I could go on.

Thing is this.  First to the photographer, clerk, and bakery:

You’re not part of my wedding.  You supplied a service.  You are not participating in the wedding itself, you are feeding it and you are taking pictures of it, and you are handing me a license that records that it took place.  End.  You are not, in the strictest sense, actually invited to the wedding.  You’re not participating.  Even if you were an actual guest asked to come watch the wedding take place, I’m not sure it counts as ‘participating’, more like watching myself and my wife engaging in a ceremony that is taking place between ourselves, the officiate, and (if we should have them) our maids of honour.

To the judge:

You’re a public official.  You are serving as the representative of your governing body.  You are not participating in the wedding, your position is.  You are filling it.  Swallow your pride, buttercup, or get off the bench.

To everyone else:

Your doors are open to the public.  You want your religion to guide your life, bravo, but you want to be able to pick and choose your customers based on that religion you need to stop being a public business and become a religious organisation, instead.  Then you can turn away to your religious heart’s content.

Thing is, people once did turn away religions, genders, races, nationalities, and such on everything from ‘I don’t want that kind around here’ (which is, at least, honest and therefore somewhat respectable) to ‘the Bible says so’ (which, if you twist things enough is probably true … or if it’s outright true it’s probably right next to a passage you violate sixteen times every day, so please just shut up while you’re already behind).

Look.  According to the IRS I’m a private business.  Even if I were through a traditional publisher … well, there’s a reason I’m a self-published author.  The difference between traditional and self publishing is traditional is smaller royalties and usually offers me a cover artist (who I usually have absolutely no input in the selection of nor the artwork finally chosen); beyond all that, I’m still a small business in business with a larger business.

So, that said, let’s look at the universe from my business’ point of view.  According to the new laws that keep wanting to be passed I could say I don’t want to sell my books to heterosexual or cisgender or to Scientologists.  Now the waters get really muddy when you point out that there’re state and federal level protections against my discriminating against Scientologists, because that’s a religion.  But, that’s where things get fun.  While these laws are in place, legal enforcement must decide whether to enforce the existing non-discrimination laws or the new law which says that, if I hold that it is my sincere religious belief, I can deny them services.  XHamster (link very NSFW) is apparently having fun with that one (should be SFW).  True, in those states I can discriminate against gender identity and sexuality – so, if I were this hypothetical bigot (yes, bigotry works both ways, folks!), I could merrily discriminate to my heart’s content even before these laws were enacted and now that they have been the state won’t hear a single word against me and the local government councils can’t enact ordinances to make me behave myself.

Now, here’s the thing.  A lot of folk wonder what the big deal is.  “Just get your cake somewhere else”, they say.  “Get a different photographer!” they cry.

Ah, but dearies, spoken like people in very large urban centres or like people in very very small countries.  Let me paint you a picture:

Let us begin with Atkins diet and several other fads that have long since put many bakeries out of business.  Even in your moderately urban locations there are few bakeries to select from.

Now we move on to a place that is not Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.  Let us move, instead, to Little Rock, Knoxville, Memphis, or Montpelier.  Or better yet, let us move down to Coon Rapids (yep, it’s a place, my daddy went to school there),  Moose Point, Crabapple Cove, Barrow …

Here’s the thing.  The smaller the place you live the further you may have to go just to find a bakery in the first place, let alone an alternative one.  Secondly, if there’re only two bakeries in town, odds are good that you chose the one you did for a good reason.  Maybe the other one is too expensive, or is really terrible.  Now you’ve been turned away by the one that you want to go with.  And, I’m sorry, but Kroger?  Big Y?  Publix?  Stop & Shop??  Seriously, who that can afford otherwise (and even those who can’t, sometimes) goes to the grocery store for their wedding cake?!  (Okay, once upon a time, my home town, but in fairness the bakery in the local grocery store was a local bakery – the store was an IGA not a big chain supermarket … kind of different, and it was tiny town in north Arkansas for crying out loud).

Photography offers a bit of choice, but still not always a lot.  And certainly one must still balance quality and price which will winnow some of the options away.

You see?  A couple who tries to go to “Mary Catherine’s Catholic Baked Goods” which is a convent bakery and affiliated with St Lucas’ Cathedral … if they’re refused service, the answer to the couple is to tell them to suck it up and move on, and to wonder what they were thinking.  “Billy Bob’s Olde Time Bake Shoppe” on the other hand, is Billy Bob’s store that is open to the public and affiliated only with Billy Bob and his whopping twelve and one half shares in King Arthur flour.  If Billy Bob wants to tell our fateful couple that he doesn’t approve of miscegenation he’s slapped with fines and things for discrimination based on race while being berated by most of the world … under a few new laws he gets embroiled in a long complicated legal battle as the courts get to decide if the non-discrimination law is unconstitutional or the religious freedom law is (one of them actually was clever enough to limit itself against existing non-discrimination laws, but I forget which that is … not Mississippi’s, I’m pretty sure, so this can take place in Oxford, MS).  But if he wants to say “no fags allowed!”, no problem.  Until recently he, technically, already had that right since sexuality wasn’t a protected status anyhow, but the couple could still have tried and, with luck, got somewhere despite this (maybe go with sex discrimination suit), now however Billy Bob is armed with a law and his ‘sincerely held religious beliefs’ (which, apparently, state that cake is a very sacred substance and may only be served to those deemed worthy) while Lawrence and Jeffery have absolutely no legal recourse whatsoever and must now make the long trek to Tupelo before they find Sue Anne’s Country Bakery which will happily make their cake for them, but will need to charge $75 more due to the very long drive to where the wedding will be taking place (back in Larry & Jeff’s childhood home of Oxford, of course!).

See?  Gets fun doesn’t it?

And it’s not just about LGBT.  These laws hurt a lot of people.  The ones that makes the government unable to act against ‘religious beliefs’ mean that there is very sticky and complicated legal turmoil when a restaurant refuses to seat a Sikh family; when miscegenation gets you refused service at the tire shop … laws should protect people.  It’s not protecting anyone.  A person’s religious beliefs aren’t being protected, there are existing ways they can be exempted from non-discrimination for religious reasons, and if that place doesn’t want to help an unwed mother, well that’s their business then.  But the place open to the general public shouldn’t have that kind of power.  An unruly unwed mother who is wont to not paying her bills, that’s another matter.  But to see a woman holding a child, not wearing a wedding band, and who says “I haven’t got a husband” when asked what sort of work he does and say “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to go elsewhere”.  Just, no.

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