Last week, the majority of House Republicans, with the support of Paul Ryan, defeated an amendment to the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies bill. This amendment would have forbidden federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation. Ryan tritely stated that, “This is federalism; the states should do this. The federal government shouldn’t stick its nose in its business.” Of course, this isn’t much of a surprise. Private institutions, both businesses and charities, from private schools to Catholic adoption agencies, have long pocketed gay people’s tax dollars while denying them equal access to their services. Even Michigan, a blue state that legalized interracial marriage in the 1880s, passed legislation last year to allow this. The argument surrounding this issue often involve two contradictory arguments. The first argument is that it is none of the government’s business if a private institution discriminates. The second is that it is unfair for taxpayers to stop giving said institutions money. When Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2014 stating that all federal contractors must not discriminate against gay people in programs that receive tax dollars, conservative Christian writer, Dr. Michael Brown whinged, “How can you attempt to force Christians, Jews, Muslims and others to violate fundamental aspects of their moral codes in order to appease a small but powerful special interest group, one that is not, in fact, suffering daily economic hardship by being fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or expression?” The silliness of this statement should be obvious: no charity was forced by Obama’s executive order to stop discriminating. Rather, if they did wish to discriminate, they had to do it without gay people’s tax dollars. (Businesses, including private schools and any other “charity” that charges money for services, are another matter; they should not be allowed to discriminate, period, though sadly in many states they are allowed to.) It is logically inconsistent to insist in one breath that something is none of the public’s business and then in the next breath demand that the public pay for it. Taxpayer funding usually comes with a lot of strings–as it should. People have a right to know that they will have equal access to a business or charity that they are being forced to give money to. How entitled and obnoxious is it to demand that people give money to a school that will never consider admitting their children, a construction company that will never consider hiring them, or an adoption agency that will never consider them as potential parents?
Some people will argue that making non-discrimination a condition for public funding will harm the people that these businesses and charities serve, including children. In a 2015 column, even gay libertarian writer, Scott Shackford, wrote that, “Walter Olson, a legal analyst for the Cato Institute, is a contributing editor at reason. He’s also gay and the parent of an adopted child. In Olson’s experience, the more agencies out there helping children look for homes, the better.” I’m sad to see the day when some well-intentioned gay libertarians would actually defend allowing institutions to discriminate with gay people’s tax dollars. But right-wing charities are quite good at basically using kids to extort money without having to play by the rules. Three questions are worth asking here. Firstly, does it benefit children if the people responsible for overseeing their adoption would rather keep from them having any parents at all than place them with a loving, capable gay couple? Secondly, does it benefit children if the people responsible for overseeing their adoption would rather place them with a less qualified heterosexual couple than with a more qualified gay couple? Thirdly, how is it the fault of gay people and their allies if a charity loses government money and cannot continue servicing people because it discriminated; isn’t that the charity’s fault for trying to have their cake and eat it too?
There is a great irony in the statements of many conservatives who share Paul Ryan’s view about the recent anti discrimination amendment. They want to defund Planned Parenthood, because it provides abortions, which many taxpayers consider immoral. They want to prevent people from using drugs or having more children while receiving welfare payments. They want to make sure that artists who produce obscene or sacrilegious artwork shouldn’t get NEA money. I am not saying that they are wrong on these issues, but how can any rational person take these positions while also insisting that gay people have to fork over money to people who exclude them? To those who state that there are other businesses and charities that do not discriminate and that gay people should therefore be OK with funding those that do discriminate, I ask: how would you feel if heterosexual taxpayers were forced to put up money for a charity that only allowed gay parents to adopt or a business that only hired gay people? Even if an institution agrees not to discriminate in the areas where it receives funding but still discriminates in other areas, this point still applies. A church that refused to ordain black people would not and should not get public funds for its charities, even if the charities themselves are not discriminatory, and the same should hold true for anti-gay discrimination. There is a long, ugly history in this country of people being forced to pay taxes to institutions that exclude them. The Founding Fathers complained about “taxation without representation” then did the same thing to women. Racial minorities were forced for a long time to pay taxes for segregated government programs; in fact, the establishment of public schools in the South during Reconstruction was actually a negative development for African Americans, because they were forced to pay taxes for schools that their children were not allowed to enter. The fact that this fleecing of oppressed taxpayers is still going in 2016 is shameful.