Everyone’s in a tizzy about Arizona’s new “faith-based refusal of service” bill. Headlines, newsfeeds, twitter…all alight. Many are concerned that this validation will embolden grotesque behavior. I agree, and that’s precisely why I’m in favor of it. Let’s forget for a moment that Arizona state law already permits a business owner to refuse service to a gay person simply because they are gay. And never mind the almost comical incongruity of using a constitutional amendment, designed to prevent discrimination, as a device to protect discrimination. Oh yeah, and just for a hot minute, we’ll pretend that the language of the bill, bestowing this “new right” upon corporations, doesn’t contravene the Supreme Court’s current opinion that corporations can’t have religious beliefs (Hobby Lobby, holla!). Despite the deficiencies; this bill, in all of it’s perverse glory, will be a catalyst for evolution.
Just a few days ago a little pizza joint in Tucson put that sign on their door and posted the photo on Facebook. It now has over 20K likes and the owner is being quoted in the New York Times. Since the post went viral, there has been a line out the door of the restaurant. While the frenzy will probably subside over time, Rocco’s pizzeria has almost certainly created more long-term business than they would have had otherwise. Now, in the age of Yelp and social media, imagine the wrath destined for the poor soul who “exercises his new right” to refuse a customer because he is gay. I say, if a person is so bigoted that he rejects the strain of serving a gay person food in his establishment, then out with it, man! I, and probably many others, want to know who you are. Reflect on your virtuous life in the cardboard box you just moved into.
So what? Good people are rewarded, intolerance is punished…blah blah blah. The bill still sucks, you say. But, alas! The rewards and backlash are only a secondary asset of this work of art. More importantly, the bill focuses the national discourse on the sole argument against homosexuality evincing any semblance of legitimacy. Can one person’s sexual preference interfere with another person’s fundamental right to exercise their religion? All that equal rights talk the Court used when they struck down DOMA indicates that they (and anyone else firmly rooted in reality) are no longer buying the “traditional marriage/preserving the family unit” nonsense. In holding there is no legitimate purpose for treating same sex couples differently, they’ve made same sex marriage bans a tough sell. Challenges to the ban so far have been pretty unstoppable…and contagious.
Given the ever-increasing likelihood that gay marriage will soon be (officially) entitled to constitutional protections, opponents are bracing themselves for the loss of nearly every weapon in their arsenal. The only authority powerful enough to challenge the Constitution is the Constitution. Religion won’t justify a state’s right to ban same sex marriage, that’s a lost cause. But, religion may justify a different cultural deformity – treating gay people like shit! This is a much more productive conversation than assessing whether or not gay marriage is a fundamental right. Of course it is. Don’t delude yourself.
By assuming religion justifies discrimination, Arizona legislatures and supporters of the bill are finally being forced to put their money where their mouth is. Previously, people rejecting homosexuality because they love Jesus (and not because they dislike gay people) and supporting their position with text from the Bible (and not archaic delusions) have faced relatively less scrutiny than their secular counterparts. Most of us love our freedoms, our religion or both and feel everyone is entitled to their beliefs. Period. But just because their position is more palatable, doesn’t mean it’s valid…or benign.
Now, Arizona lawmakers and (if signed into law) anyone who invokes this new right, will be forced to explain just how, exactly, a person’s sexual preference interferes with another person’s fundamental right to exercise their religion. Is it possible that a person’s religious integrity could somehow be sullied by the mere act of serving a gay person food in their restaurant? Does religion justify intolerance? More importantly, if a person refuses to serve a gay person in the name of religion, does it make them a better Catholic/Christian/Jew/Muslim etc.? Or a worse one?
The evisceration of most of the anti-gay arguments and this bill will put the religion versus gay rights logic under a microscope. The dialogue that follows will amplify those fundamental questions with the greatest potential to impact the treatment of the gay community. Before, such questions were shielded from intense collective scrutiny by the mire of competing arguments with greater legal relevance. But, as the Court implies, legislation that denies gay rights under the guise of avoiding some destructive force was and is merely the product of homophobia. As such, the hard fought battles challenging those laws have had enormous legal significance, but less of a cultural impact. You could craft the single greatest, most airtight legal argument in this entire universe; expounding on the virtues of gay marriage and homosexuality so powerfully that it makes Justice Scalia grab Clarence Thomas and kiss him on the mouth. But it wouldn’t make a difference to your opponent, because you can’t convince a homophobe to be more tolerant with logic or reason. Their revulsion is not grounded in either. It’s emotional. A hard-to-define (thankfully receding) cultural discomfort, hastily dismissed as a moral failing.
On the other hand, those who truly believe that they are serving their faith by throwing a gay person out of their restaurant may be more effected when their contentions are scrutinized by the collective national conscience. Especially when faced with a thorough examination of whether refusing service to gays actually makes you a worse Catholic/Christian etc. Sure, the Bible supports the notion that homosexuality is a sin. But that’s a big book, and it says a lot of stuff. It also says to love thy neighbor. Not love only thy neighbors who don’t sin. Judge not lest ye be judged? Premarital sex, swearing, lying, arguing, being drunk, evil thoughts, adultery – all of em’ sins! Wrath and hatred? Oh no you didn’t! If God exists in the way they say–monitoring over 7 billion people, simultaneously, every minute of every day for their entire life; marking his enormous notebook with every swear, argument, lie, wine-night-with-the-girls, evil thought, confession etc., then consulting this data (which is hopefully online by now, for His sake) upon every person’s death to decide where they go next–then I have a feeling quite a few people trying to “save the gays” will have some ‘splainin to do themselves. And if their derision towards gay people stems from anything other than a genuine concern for the person’s immortal soul, then guess what! You’s a sinner!
Besides, the Bible has been used to justify terrible conduct throughout history. That’s nothing new. It certainly supports the position taken in the bill, but it also supported Hitler, the KKK, and the 12th century crusaders in their endeavors. The Bible says I can go to other countries and take slaves. But am I gonna do it? Noooooooo. Because when people inform me that my religion permits me to act like an asshole, I politely decline. You can’t be a good catholic if you’re not a good person. Shaming and humiliating a stranger in front of his company, simply because you suspect he is gay is not being a good person.
My hope and belief is that this scrutiny will lead to the ultimate conclusion that snippets of the Bible aren’t as important as the overall message of love and respect. Religion is supposed to be a force for good, not a vehicle for cultural regression and intolerance. I can’t think of anything that elucidates that point better than a bill that knocks us back to the civil rights era by “clarifying the law” so a business owner can more freely discriminate against a customer based on a socially objectionable, but uncontrollable, personal attribute. I’m guessing that even if this bill does pass, there won’t be many takers. Many will fear the backlash, sure, but hopefully others refrain for different reasons. Hopefully, telling a person who is out to eat with their co-workers or friends that his mere presence is so offensive to you that he doesn’t have the right to eat a meal in your establishment just feels like a cruel thing to do. And if it doesn’t, you’re probably doing religion wrong.
Actually, I retract my headline. I don’t support this bill, because I just realized that the practical effect of this legislation would be experienced mostly in the minds of gay people afraid to go to any restaurant or the bank or anywhere. I’m sure few bigoted business owners would be harmed because few would actually have the guts to bust out the 1950’s “we don’t want your kind around these parts” line. Not only because one or more people might knock him out, or at the very least make a scene; but because business owners typically tend to be business people. I was raised by the profit margin of a restaurant, it’s small. But imagine the anxiety any ordinary outing would create for gay people faced with even the possibility of that humiliation, never mind the larger, hateful message. Anyway, I digress. But I’m not changing my headline because more people will read my blog this way. I support (some of the detrimental effects of) Arizona’s Discrimination Bill. There.
This misguided attempt to codify discrimination is the frantic, last-ditch effort of a group who would rather self-destruct than acknowledge reality. Religion and reason aren’t incompatible, but you can’t argue with speculation as if they were certainties and you can’t preach one way and behave another. That is incompatible with reason. The catholic church has taken a beating in recent years. It’s hard to subscribe to an institution that would rather save face than punish sexual deviants or heal victims of the abuse. Not even the Bible can justify that. Religion isn’t under attack, hypocrites are. And the more the deeply religious right cling to the dubious proposition that practicing their faith not only permits, but requires, them to be awful to people, the less credibility they have.
I don’t blame people when they accept the false choice that you must either be intolerant or acting contrary to your faith. A lot of people, understandably, are more inclined to denounce religion than judge a person for being gay or getting an abortion. I would too if I thought those were my only two options. But religion, as we know it, is no more organic than a political election. A manmade construct, tweaked and distorted to suit the various needs of powerful interests over the years. How much validity can we reasonably assign to dogma produced by a global, centuries-long game of telephone?
Doubt hasn’t made me question my faith, rather decide it. My religion compels me to try my hardest to be a good person and treat people well. Help them when I can. I can’t conceive of a God who would disregard every good deed I’ve ever done in my life because I swear or occasionally drink too much vodka. Does casting judgment on homosexuality mean in God’s eyes you’re superior to those who don’t? I don’t know. But, I certainly wouldn’t take it as a given. Who knows? Maybe God evolves too. I don’t think that idea is any more insane than throwing someone out of your restaurant for not adhering to a cultural norm created more than two thousand years ago.