America’s growing affirmation of LGBT people, and their recent political successes, is prompting some backlash. The Arizona state legislature just passed a bill on Thursday that, if signed into law, would expand religious freedom to allow business owners to use their beliefs to justify refusing service to LGBT people.
It’s the furthest that such an effort has gotten — similar bills failed or are stalled in Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Kansas.
The biggest puzzler is what a sincerely religious person hopes to accomplish by refusing to serve an LGBT person. Withholding, say, a cheeseburger, from someone is a pretty roundabout and pointless way of expressing yourself.
What good does it do to continue marginalizing them? And are they going to care what you think when you’re the jerk who’s, like, refusing to file their taxes?
Underlying that stance is a sentiment that being gay is a choice or a lifestyle, and not a natural (and perfectly good!) orientation. Until that attitude is corrected, many people will find it reasonable to condemn and punish people for who they are. And the words “exclusion” and “judgment” aren’t usually associated with good-natured evangelism. Maybe a simple “WWJD?” is in order.
Granted, the issue is more sensitive and debatable for those in the wedding industry. A photographer, for example, shouldn’t be sued out of business for declining to shoot a same-sex wedding. Maybe they just can’t do it. But brides and grooms would be happier to hire someone who is actually affirming of their marriage, so perhaps that would get sorted out anyway.
An exemption for that industry is warranted, similar to the ones that give churches discretion in the wedding ceremonies they preside over. But the Arizona bill is broader than that — it applies to any legal entity: businesses, schools and other organizations.
Religious beliefs have always had special privileges — the Bill of Rights protects their free exercise. Courts have to determine whether someone’s beliefs are sincere or not and whether they justify an action.
But all rights are weighted against each other. For example, someone’s sincere but racist religious belief doesn’t allow them to refuse service to racial minorities. Judges and legislators have decided that you’ll just have to go out of business if that’s your style. When it comes to race, justice trumps economic and religious freedom.
Sexual orientation, however, doesn’t have the same legal protection that race does. Arizona, like most states, has no law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Perhaps they never will — that’s up to us in the next few decades of legislation and judicial ruling.
The relative weight of justice, freedom, order, etc. in a given case varies with time as people’s attitudes change. Whatever your rights are, they’re temporary and subject to whatever everyone else thinks they should be. Not even your right to continue living is absolute, as long as capital punishment is legal.
Arizona has already made a name for itself with a draconian immigration law passed in 2010, which demands that all non-citizens in the state carry their paperwork with them at all times. It also allows police to demand that paperwork from anyone who they stop or arrest — a prescription for racial profiling.
This new bill will add another ugly notch to their belt and add LGBT people to the list of unwanted Arizonans. Gov. Jan Brewer has yet to sign the bill into law and can earn herself a better place in history by vetoing it.
UPDATE: Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill on Wednesday.