Momentum for Gay Rights Keeps Going

If I regarded the opposition to equal rights for gays and lesbians as anything other than bigoted bile, I might be feeling some sympathy for opponents of gay rights after what happened in Arizona. You see, Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a proposed Arizona law that would have allowed business owners to discriminate against gays if discrimination was part of their religious values. The bill, of course, did not change Arizona law, because private-sector discrimination against gays is already legal in Arizona, but it was an opportunity for Republican lawmakers to please socially conservative constituents by continuing to appeal to homophobia. Brewer, of course, is no Rockefeller Republican when it comes to gay rights. She is virulently opposed to same-sex marriage and even domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples. Homophobic social conservatives thought they could count on her. But unlike some politicians, she understands that you can only fight the tide on civil rights for so long before relenting. I believe that everyone knows my views on this topic, but I wanted to articulate precisely why I believe that, for example, a baker refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple or a photographer refusing to photograph a same-sex wedding deserve to have their businesses shut down. To put it simply, a business is not a church. It is a for-profit institution that engages in commerce with the public. The fact that a business owner is very religious does not transform their business into a church. Therefore, the legal right of churches to engage in discriminatory actions (albeit perhaps at the expense of their tax-exempt statuses) cannot apply to businesses. While even some people who support workplace protection laws for gays may balk at the idea that a baker would be compelled to bake a cake for a gay couple or have their business shut down, such a policy is perfectly fair. Businesses must service everyone equally, regardless of characteristics like race or sexual orientation. A business may refuse service to someone because they are not wearing a shirt or are smoking, but walking shirtless or smoking are chosen behaviors. They are not the same as immutable traits like race or sexual orientation. A business that refuses service to customers because those customers are gay cannot be permitted to use their religion as a trump card that allows them to do whatever they want. Similarly, religious schools are not churches. They also operate like businesses, charging money for people to attend. They cannot claim a right to discriminate against people based on characteristics like race or sexual orientation. While conservatives who favor allowing religious business owners to discriminate tend to do so based on an opposition to gay rights, some principled libertarians oppose discrimination but believe that business owners have a right to discriminate if they so choose. The problem with this stance is that it involves hard core libertarians blending the praiseworthy belief that individuals should be free to do what they want as long as it does not directly hurt anyone else with the incorrect belief that a business discriminating does not hurt anyone. Denying someone goods or services, to say nothing of a job or a promotion, absolutely hurts them directly. As the saying goes, you have a right to swing your fist, but not when it collides with someone else’s nose. The argument that customers denied service can simply go elsewhere fails to hold water. In the first place, why should a gay couple have to go seek out another bakery just because a baker thinks gay marriage is an abomination and therefore refuses to service them? (Despite, of course, the fact that if the bakery catches fire or gets robbed, the firefighters and police officers who show up are paid partly by tax dollars from the gays that were denied service.) This is a classic case of the heckler’s veto, in which people who engage in abominable behavior are accommodated. Additionally, what if every business owner in a community decides to discriminate? It may seem unlikely, but that is exactly what the law proposed in Arizona would have allowed. I also find it amusing that the same conservative Christians who have constantly used the hammer of government to promote their belief in gay inferiority are now crying about “big government” promoting gay rights.

In other gay rights news . . .

If the court decisions on gay marriage in Oklahoma and Utah did not convince you that every state is in play, the court decision striking down Texas’ ban on gay marriage should. All of these decisions will be appealed, but it is clear where the momentum is headed. I also want to congratulate Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway for refusing to appeal the court ruling mandating that Kentucky recognize out-of-state gay marriages. Rand Paul’s statement attacking the decision and defending “traditional marriage” just reaffirms what I already knew: you can usually trust the Pauls to abandon their supposed belief in limited government when the opportunity for gay bashing arises.

John Hickenlooper, the Democratic governor of Colorado, finally voiced support for gay marriage this week. This is a marked contrast to his previous refusal to go on record in favor of gay marriage and his ignorant, smug boast that after he signed a bill legalizing civil unions, “all Coloradans have equal rights.” Hickenlooper was among the last prominent Democrats to join the equality train. I say better late than never, but 2014 is VERY late. If Hickenlooper runs for president in 2016, as some people have speculated, I’ll be quite unenthusiastic.

A group of Western Republicans is fighting to get gay marriage legalized. The group is led by former Republican Senators Alan Simpson and Nancy Kassebaum. I’m not surprised about Simpson, but Kassebaum does surprise me, as she had a strongly conservative voting record on gay rights as a Senator. Still, it makes some sense. Kassebaum is very much the traditional Republican. Her father, Alf Landon, ran against FDR in 1936. In a regional alignment that seems unthinkable today, Landon won only Maine and Vermont, while FDR won every other state. Catering heavily to white supremacists, FDR won 97% of the vote in Mississippi and 98.6% of the vote in South Carolina. Landon favored an anti-lynching bill and criticized the rampant racial discrimination in New Deal programs and FDR’s pandering to Southern segregationists. He would go on to help an aspiring black radio host get a radio license in 1950. As a rookie Senator, Kassebaum went against President Ronald Reagan by working to impose strong sanctions on the South African government due to apartheid. Ironically, at least two of the Senate Republicans who stood with Reagan in opposition to strong sanctions, Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, had been Democrats for much of their adult life, while Kassebaum was an ancestral Republican. The actions of Simpson and Kassebaum represent an attempt to bring the GOP back to its roots. It reminds me that the support for making the GOP friendly to people who are not white, heterosexual, or male, comes not only from socially liberal youngsters but also octogenarian and nonagenarian traditional Republicans like Simpson, Kassebaum, William G. Milliken, Daniel J. Evans, and, if you want to count folks who left the party, Lowell Weicker.


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