Let's get this out of the way right at the beginning: The argument that salespeople, shopkeepers, cashiers, clerks, bakers, photographers, caterers, florists, dress sellers, tuxedo renters and the like should have the "religious freedom" to refuse service to a class of people in order to protect their right to "sincerely held beliefs" is bullshit. Straight up bullshit. We've been down this legal path before, with religious justifications behind attempts to wiggle out of civil rights era legislation. It didn't work then, it shouldn't work now. The similarities are unmistakable, and unsurprisingly, those behind these arguments are doing their best to point out why that kind of discrimination was wrong, but this kind of discrimination is legitimate and necessary.
But think about that for a second. Proclaiming your religion and beliefs in cherished, sacrosanct terms, and then using them to justify discriminating against a group of people. What a thing to hang your religion on.
Now that marriage equality is poised to become a 50-state-wide reality (assuming the Supreme Court rules in that direction), religious conservatives have been in a full-blown, desperate panic over how to limit or stall it. Two major legal strategies are spreading like wildfire. One of those is to initiate legislation that effectively ignores or attempts to trump the Supreme Court, but refusing to--and in some cases punishing other legislators and judges who--follow the law. This tack is virtually assured to fail, and serves only to cast major doubt on these legislators' grasp of the Constitution, and on any claims they may have of "fiscal conservatism." Quite simply, they're going to lose, and they're going to cost their states lots of money in legal fees.
The other tack is to create legal exemptions and loopholes for religious people. This tells the religious person: you don't have to follow Law X because it is against your religion. And this is where writing about this subject starts to get difficult. This is where it hits a tangent prism that confounds me as a writer, as to which direction of wrong to tackle first, and how to tie it all into a bow. So, I'm going to try a bullet-pointed list of problems with why this sort of legal strategy is fraught with problems. This is by no means a comprehensive list, either.
- Religious beliefs need no evidence or justification. They don't even need scriptural citation. For example, there is no implicit Biblical commandment for being against abortion or against selling products or services to gay people. A person could claim a "sincerely held belief" to almost anything. In Hobby Lobby, the beliefs in question didn't even need to match scientific fact that contradicted the beliefs, all that mattered was the belief.
- Though so far, the topic has pretty much been limited to the wedding industry, and the subject of marriage itself, what legal reasoning could restrict these exemptions (or this complaint) to marriage? Why would it only apply to weddings? It isn't hard to conceive that granting special exemptions to this industry and subject would be a foot in the door for exemptions for all sorts of other things. And while this may sound like a slippery slope logical fallacy, I have seen no argument that would restrict these laws in any way to this specific subject.
- Christianity is not the only religion whose beliefs would need to be respected if such a set of laws were passed. It would apply to all religions, presumably major established ones, as well as cults, and brand new, just-born religions. Given that no evidence or scripture is even needed to claim religious belief, an enterprising individual could invent his own religion on the spot, in an attempt to skirt the law.
- Gay marriage, homosexuality and the wedding industry are by no means the only category of law that could be claimed in conflict with "sincerely held belief." The fact that this category is claiming most of the attention in the news right now shows the transparent nature of the push: though they'll go to great pains to avoid mentioning gay people or same-sex marriage in legislation, it's that purposeful avoidance of naked animus that will make these exemptions so vague as to have trucks driven through them.
- The obvious cause of this new flurry of legislation is religious opposition to same-sex marriage. But these are civil marriages, legal contracts. Not "holy matrimony." These are not marriages in the name of the religions objector's church, or in the name of the objector's God. They are, legally, no more religious in nature than a business contract or a building permit, unless the participants attach their religious beliefs to it. The religion of the formal occasion professional, or the government clerk servicing the civil contract are utterly irrelevant.
- Selling goods or services to a wedding party have not--prior to the advent of same-sex marriage--been seen as endorsement of, or participation in the event the goods or services were used for. If they had been, we'd have already seen "sin checklists" that quiz brides and grooms about infidelity, religious compatibility, prior divorces, and countless other attempts to root out sin. Such a thing would have been seen as outrageous and preposterous in the industry, until now. Which should be telling.
- There is an inherent irony involved in a religious push that simultaneously attempts to shield one group of people from violating their "sincerely held beliefs," while barring other people from following their own. These laws would ignore the customer's beliefs, by trumping them with the business person's (or civil clerk's) beliefs. It forces the customer to follow the seller's religion, or to be refused service. That the people behind such laws are very likely the same people who would be most paranoid about "Sharia Law" ought to be another red flag.
- All of this legislation effectively ignores religions that are in favor of same-sex marriage, and/or gay people in general. These religions do exist, and are growing in number.
|Anti-gay Texas legislator and cartoon|
character, Cecil Bell.
Here are a few stories going on right now, regarding attempts by religious conservatives to legally discriminate against gay people:
Texas: Anti-Gay Marriage Bill Scrutinized in Committee
Indiana: Tech leaders to Pence: Veto 'religious freedom' bill
California: California Seeks to Head Off Initiative to Execute Gays