If you’ve paid attention to social media and headlines news recently, you’ve almost certainly seen debate and criticism over a recently signed Indiana bill intended to protect exercise of religion from government interference which may, among other things, make it easier for business owners to refuse service to homosexual customers. It’s this aspect in particular that has drawn the ire of gay rights activists and sympathizers. Major corporations like Salesforce are chastising the bill and making efforts to take their business elsewhere. Even the Governor of Connecticut is boycotting official government travel to Indiana to make a statement.
To be clear, I am strongly in favor of gays having every civil and legal right that heterosexuals do, including marriage and adoption issues, and I find the idea of refusing service to customers based on their sexual orientation to be contemptible. I have quite a few thoughts over the spectacle concerning Indiana’s new bill that has developed over the past days, but for this post I’ll focus on just one that I find particularly compelling – that extreme reactions from the pro-gay rights camp are actually weakening one of the strongest arguments in favor of gay marriage.
A Flashback to June 26, 2013
This was a momentous day for gay (and human) rights. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, thereby allowing the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages.
The decision rekindled debate over the issue of whether the government should permit same sex marriages, with many insisting on religious grounds that a marriage must only be a union between one man and one woman. However, I’ve long believed that the case in favor of allowing gays to marry and enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples is much stronger than the religious objections of some of their fellow citizens.
Perhaps the strongest argument to make this case is the broad notion that a government should afford all its citizens the same rights and opportunities regardless of their identity. This identity may include race, religion, ethnicity, and gender among other factors and I see no reason to exclude sexual orientation from that list. This is simply equality under the law, and it’s worth fighting for no matter which group’s rights are at stake.
But if I had to choose the next strongest argument in favor of allowing gays the right to marry, it would be that it doesn’t affect me, or religious crusaders against gay marriage, or really anyone who’s not party to that marriage. If two people of the same gender decide to form a union and decide to call that union a marriage, it does not harm or impact me in any way and frankly it’s none of my business. Nobody’s interests are harmed or jeopardized by gay marriages, and therefore there’s no legitimate public interest at stake to justify forbidding them. “I’m uncomfortable with the idea of it” is not a good reason to ban something.
On the day of this ruling, I remember reading an article from Cracked that more or less made the same point I did in my last paragraph. It’s titled “A 30-Second Guide to How the Gay Marriage Ruling Affects You” and the short answer is “This decision does not affect you in any way.” In other words, people who object to gay marriage on religious grounds were not impacted in any way and were free to continue their lives without getting involved in gay marriages. Everyone wins! Right? Well, not quite…
Declining To Cater Gay Wedding Pizza Parties
Recently, as part of the frenzy over Indiana’s religious freedom bill, a TV reporter in Indiana walked in to a pizza restaurant and asked if the owner would cater a gay wedding. The owner said no, because they are a Christian establishment. The reaction to this comment was merciless and resulted in the restaurant shutting down. Criticisms were lobbed, threats were made, and Yelp reviews were one-starred. Even the district’s state senator stated that this “thinking has no place in this town.” How dare someone discriminate against gays like that?
Keep in mind, as this article points out, that there’s no indication that this store owner has ever refused service to gays, catered a wedding, or involved himself in gay rights issues in any way. In fact, he promised he would never refuse service to gays who walk in his door. Maybe if the follow-up question had been “you know that if you don’t cater a gay wedding pizza party, they’ll just order Pizza Hut and you’ll lose business, right?” then the store owner would’ve changed his mind after some thought.
Here’s a store that has never denied service to gays and promises it never will, yet it’s been excoriated for merely suggesting that it would decline to cater a completely hypothetical gay wedding. Here’s what I think: so what?
There’s a sharp difference to me between an establishment that forbids customers based on their sexual orientation and a business owner declining to participate in a ceremony that run counter to his religious beliefs. I’m Jewish and, although I’ve never wanted a religious ceremony, I wouldn’t lose any sleep if a wedding services provider declined to participate in my ceremony for religious reasons – I’d just call someone else. If a photographer only wants to shoot Baptist weddings in a Baptist church, be my guest. Freedom works both ways.
Not Any Of Your Business
So lets tie this back to the Cracked article I linked to earlier, how does gay marriage affect you? Apparently, hypothetically declining to serve one might get you raging internet mobs calling for blood and – perhaps more concerning – even more people calling for laws that legally require you to participate in gay weddings if solicited. That doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “it won’t impact you in any way.” As I see it, the point of that article goes right out the window in a society where declining involvement in a gay wedding is forbidden and, with it, one of the strongest arguments in favor of equal marriage rights for gays.
Don’t get me wrong, I personally don’t see any good reason to decline to serve a gay wedding and I’d rather live in a society where everyone accepted gays the same way I and an increasingly large number of Americans do. But neither government intervention nor internet vitriol aimed at opposite-minded people will attain tolerance and acceptance for gays.
One’s personal life, sex life, and religious beliefs are one’s own business. Let’s not make it the government’s business, and let’s not make it the business of every pizza parlor in the country either.