Some time ago in New Mexico, a gay couple solicited a photographer to take pictures of their wedding. The photographer refused to accept the business because to do so would have required him to violate the beliefs of his faith that view homosexuality to be a sin, and gay marriage abhorrent. The gay couple sued, charging discrimination. Similar lawsuits have targeted bakers in Oregon for refusing to bake wedding cakes for gay couples on religious grounds. Along comes the Arizona legislature with a remedy to provide legal protection to business owners who choose not to serve customers based upon “sincere” religious conviction. The bill is SB1062, and it has set off a firestorm of debate across the country. What to think?
This issue is so incredibly riddled with land mines, it boggles the imagination. Would a bill designed to protect the Christian businessman from having to violate his deepest religious convictions also protect the Muslim businessman from having to serve a Jew? Suppose the Westboro Baptist crowd were to request that a local baker make them a cake with the words, “God Hates Fags.” If that baker were to refuse, could he be sued successfully? Herein lies the flaw in trying to craft laws to solve problems of the heart.
I am torn by this issue. On the one hand, discrimination isn’t always a bad thing. I do it every day, and I dare say, you do too. I discriminate against McDonalds because I believe their food sucks. Ever since I married my wife 30 years ago, I have discriminated against every other woman I have come in contact with. When choosing the neighborhood I live in, the car I drive and the places I go on vacation, I make a series of discriminating decisions. Each of us, as part of our instinct for survival discriminates. I may choose not to enter a restaurant because of its shabby appearance. Even though the food may be amazing, I make a decision not to eat there, simply because of how it looks on the outside. The fact that I never discover the wonderful food is my problem.
Of course, people are not restaurants. If I as a businessman who serves the public decide to deny service to someone, I better have an extremely good reason, something better than, “I don’t like the way you look.” That is what the equal protection of the law is all about. So, the question then becomes, does deeply held religious conviction qualify as a good enough reason for the law? I guess it ultimately depends on which deeply held convictions you are talking about.
For example, would the baker who denied services to the gay couple also deny services to the twice-divorced heterosexual couple who met through an online dating site while they were both married to someone else? Would a Catholic baker be allowed to deny services to a fellow Catholic who has fallen in love with a Baptist girl and plans on tying the knot in the city park instead of a sanctified church? To further muck up the works, how does the state determine what the word sincere means in this particular law? I have a hard enough time divining sincerity, how on earth will the State be able to determine whether someone is sincere or simply a bigot?
So, once again I find myself totally confused and envious of those who claim that this issue is clear cut. I think about the parable of the Good Samaritan. I don’t recall that he first inquired as to the lifestyle or political beliefs of the man who had been left beaten and robbed at the side of the road. He simply took care of a fellow human being who needed help. Part of me wants to say to that Christian baker, “Dude, demonstrate the love of Jesus to all of your customers and let God sort it all out.”
Maybe my sincere religious convictions aren’t sincere enough.