Category Archives: Gay Rights

The Proof Of The Pudding…Er, Cake

What was that line from Jaws? He’s baaaack….

Remember the Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court? Although headlines suggested he’d won his case, the Court actually punted, because it found that the initial consideration of his argument by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had denied him “the neutral and respectful consideration” to which he was entitled.

That case thus failed to set a precedent or resolve the issue. So guess what–Mr. “sincere religious belief” is back, this time for refusing to bake a cake for a transgender customer.

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., on Tuesday filed another federal lawsuit against the state alleging religious discrimination.

This time, the cake at the center of the controversy was not for a wedding. In June 2017, Colorado lawyer Autumn Scardina called Masterpiece Cakeshop to request a custom cake that was blue on the outside and pink on the inside.

The occasion, Scardina told the bakery’s employees, was to celebrate her birthday, as well as the seventh anniversary of the day she had come out as transgender.

Masterpiece Cakeshop ultimately refused Scardina’s order on religious grounds.

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission once again found Phillips guilty of discrimination, and once again, he has filed a federal lawsuit claiming religious discrimination.

I have no idea whether the transgender customer was part of an effort to test Phillips’ assertion–in the context of the original case–that he served everyone, and only objected to using his cake-baking “art” to celebrate occasions he “sincerely” believed to be sinful. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Leaving aside the (strong) legal justification for civil rights laws, here’s what strikes me about Masterpiece Cakeshop, the sequel.

As I’ve previously noted, if I owned a bakery, and I sincerely didn’t want to bake a cake for a customer (for any reason–maybe the customer has just been a pain in the derriere), I would simply say something like, “Gee, Mrs. Smith, I am so backed up with orders that I can’t take any more until after the date you need the cake,” or “I’m so sorry, Mr. Jones, but I’m short-handed right now…”

In other words, there are lots of ways you can refrain from “participating in sin” without issuing a self-righteous sermon to justify the abstention.

People in business who want to stay in business avoid unnecessarily pissing people off–especially people who are part of communities that are likely to take offense and stop patronizing your store. (A couple of years ago, a bakery not far from my house did refuse to bake a cake for a gay couple, and told them the refusal was based upon the owners’ religious beliefs. This is a gay-friendly neighborhood, the couple shared their experience, and six months later the bakery was no longer in business.)

Even if the religious belief that requires you to refuse baking a cake is sincere, I know of no religious doctrine that requires you to be a horse’s ass about the refusal. If your religious beliefs require you to turn away business by lecturing your hapless would-be customers about the wages of sin, you have no business being in business. (And you probably won’t be for long.)

Forgive my cynicism, but Mr. Phillips sounds far more interested in theatrically demeaning LGBTQ folks and being a tool for right-wing legal activists than in running a bakery.

The Enemy Of My Enemy…

E.J. Dionne had an interesting column in the Washington Post a few days ago.

He was analyzing the relationship that has recently been uncovered between Russia and the American Right–not just the NRA (fascinating as THAT is) but also the Evangelical Christian community. There’s been a lot of focus on that community’s support of Trump, but very little commentary on its seemingly bizarre relationship with Russian operatives.

In truth, there is nothing illogical about the ideological collusion that is shaking our political system. If the old Soviet Union was the linchpin of the Communist International, Putin’s Russia is creating a new Reactionary International built around nationalism, a critique of modernity and a disdain for liberal democracy. Its central mission includes wrecking the Western alliance and the European Union by undermining a shared commitment to democratic values.

I think that one key to the referenced “disdain” for liberal democracy is resistance to the “liberal” part–not to liberal politics as we understand that term today (although the Right opposes that liberalism too), but resentment of the 18th Century liberal restraints on what the majority can vote to have government require of everyone else. In other words, the limits on majoritarianism imposed by the Bill of Rights. But I digress.

Dionne notes that Putin’s affinity toward the far right makes sense, because his power rests on a nationalism rooted in Russian traditionalism.

And the right in both Europe and the United States has responded. Long before Russia’s efforts to elect Trump in the 2016 election became a major public issue, Putin was currying favor with the American gun lobby, Christian conservatives and Republican politicians.

In a prescient March 2017 article in Time magazine, Alex Altman and Elizabeth Dias detailed Russia’s “new alliances with leading U.S. evangelicals, lawmakers and powerful interest groups like the NRA.”

I thought the most telling paragraph in the column was Dionne’s explanation of the Evangelical/Russia bond.

Evangelical Christians, they noted, found common ground with Putin, a strong foe of LGBTQ rights, on the basis of “Moscow’s nationalist and ultraconservative push — led by the Russian Orthodox Church — to make the post-Soviet nation a bulwark of Christianity amid the increasing secularization of the West.”

There’s an old saying to the effect that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I have never understood fundamentalist Christians’ seething hatred for the gay community–as many pastors have noted, the one (incessantly recited) bible passage about a man lying with another man is vastly outnumbered by the biblical admonitions they cheerfully ignore about feeding the poor and helping the widow and orphan, etc.

It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that these Evangelicals use the Bible the way a drunk uses a street lamp–for support rather than illumination.

Be that as it may, evidently all Putin had to do too woo Evangelicals was discriminate against the people they’d love to oppress if only that pesky Bill of Rights and old-fashioned American notions about civil equality didn’t get in their way…

The deepening ties between the Russian government and elements of the right should give pause to all conservatives whose first commitment is to democratic life. The willingness of traditionalists and gun fanatics to cultivate ties with a Russian dictator speaks of a profound alienation among many on the right from core Western values — the very values that most conservatives extol.

Of course, the people who support Trump and are willing to get in bed with Putin (and I mean that in the most heterosexual possible way!) aren’t genuine conservatives. They have no discernible political philosophy–just a deep-seated resentment for people unlike themselves, and a well-founded fear that the dominance they once enjoyed is rapidly evaporating.

 

Still Fighting The Last War

Indiana Republicans seem determined to keep fighting the culture wars–especially the ones they’ve already lost.

At the Republican state convention–held the same day that approximately 100,000 Hoosiers gathered in Indianapolis to celebrate Pride and watch a parade that has become larger than the parade mounted by the Indy 500– GOP delegates voted down a proposed change in the party’s platform. The change would have removed language describing marriage as only between a man and woman.

Take that, 21st Century!

As the Northwest Indiana Times reported,

EVANSVILLE — The Indiana Republican Party, by an overwhelming margin, reaffirmed Saturday its commitment to marriage “between a man and a woman” as the preferred structure for Hoosier families.

In so doing, the 1,494 GOP delegates attending the party’s biennial state convention turned aside a revised “strong families” platform plank, proposed by Gov. Eric Holcomb’s party leadership, that expressed support for all adults raising children, in favor of renewing explicit support for opposite-sex marriage that first was inserted in the platform in 2014 by marriage equality opponents.

According to several reports, most of the delegates in attendance applauded and cheered following the vote. The reaction was described as an endorsement of “Mike Pence-era” attitudes.

Daniel Elliot, the Morgan County GOP chairman and leader of the Republican Victory Committee that pushed the platform issue to the convention’s forefront, said preferring man-woman marriage “is an important part of who we are as Hoosier Republicans.”

Unfortunately for Indiana, he’s right. It is who they are.

Hoosier Republicans continue to deny the equality of their LGBTQ neighbors–and generally reject other efforts to move the party in the direction of inclusiveness for people who don’t look like the people they see in their churches on Sunday, or in their mirrors. The Indiana GOP is– as the Northwest Times article suggests– still the party of Mike Pence.

It isn’t just homophobia. Members of the Pence party are suspicious of calls for equal pay for us “uppity” women, let alone the scandalous notion that we should be allowed to control our own reproduction. Pence Party Hoosiers want to halt immigration (at least from south of the border), and they roundly reject the notion that we might have an obligation to resettle the women and children refugees who have fled from unimaginable horrors. They are equally uninterested in the possibility of raising the minimum wage in order to ameliorate the struggles of the working poor– the third of Hoosier families that fall within the ALICE demographic.

Mostly, however, it’s “non-Biblical” sex that offends them. (Or, as a friend of mine used to opine, they are enraged by the prospect that across town somewhere, someone is having a good time…)

It will be interesting to see how these Pence party attitudes–which may have carried the day in Evansville, but are by and large not shared even by urban Republicans– play out in November. Granted, this is Indiana–the “buckle on the Bible Belt”–but citizens of this red state have largely come to terms with the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. Lots of Hoosiers have gay friends and relatives, significant numbers attend churches and synagogues that are affirming and welcoming, and they are ready to move on.

The “Pence party,” not so much.

 

A Decision That Isn’t

Well, the United States Supreme Court just emulated Solomon.

Remember the biblical story in which two women claimed to be the mother of a baby, and demanded that Solomon decide between them? He proposed to cut the baby in two, knowing that the real mother would withdraw her claim in order to protect the baby. The lesson from that parable? Solomon was a smart guy.

So is Justice Kennedy.

The case before the Supreme Court was poised to add lots of fuel to America’s already raging culture war. In 2012, a Colorado baker had refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, citing his religious beliefs. (This wasn’t a refusal to sell a cake that already existed; the baker had evidently been asked to create one especially for the couple. He argued that doing so would amount to compelling his speech in favor of same-sex marriage, which he opposed.) At the time, Colorado did not recognize same-sex marriages, but the state had a civil rights law that included protections for LGBTQ citizens, and the state’s Civil Rights Commission ruled that the baker had violated that law, and intermediate courts upheld the Commission.

The Supreme Court reversed, ruling 7-2 for the baker. Sort of.

Although it is hard to fault the logic of the dissent by Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor, who argued that baking a cake is not the expression of an opinion, the majority decision in the Masterpiece Cake case was a masterpiece. (Okay, terrible pun.) As USA Today reported,

the long-awaited decision did not resolve whether other opponents of same-sex marriage, including bakers, florists, photographers and videographers, can refuse commercial wedding services to gay couples. In fact, the court on Monday scheduled a similar case involving a Washington State florist for consideration at their private conference Thursday.

The decision reiterated the rule that business owners generally cannot deny equal access to goods and services under a neutral public accommodations law. The result in Masterpiece turned instead on the Court’s finding that the baker had been treated prejudicially by Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission– that the Commission had demonstrated a hostility to religion in its treatment of the case.

Kennedy reasoned that Phillips, in refusing to create a same-sex wedding cake, had good reason to believe he was within his rights. State law at the time allowed merchants some latitude to decline specific messages, such as those demeaning gay people and gay marriages.

The government cannot impose regulations hostile to citizens’ religious beliefs, the ruling said. But it was limited to Colorado’s treatment of Phillips; had the process been fair, Kagan and Breyer likely would have been on the other side, and Kennedy would have had a tougher decision to make.

“A vendor can choose the products he sells, but not the customers he serves — no matter the reason,” Kagan wrote, joined by Breyer. “Phillips sells wedding cakes. As to that product, he unlawfully discriminates: He sells it to opposite-sex but not to same-sex couples.”

The plaintiff won. He gets a new hearing. However, the ruling is unlikely to affect other claims of discrimination by same-sex couples.

The Court’s decision deprives the Religious Right of a grievance that would have been useful for fundraising and political organizing, it does no damage to gay civil rights generally, and it is too narrowly tailored to be used as a precedent by others claiming a religious right to discriminate. If you are going to “lose” a case, this is clearly the way you’d want to lose it.

Well done, Supremes.

 

 

Confirmation: It Isn’t About Religion

The Indianapolis Star, in one of its increasingly rare forays into what used to be called “news,” reported on a very interesting study investigating popular opinion about the pending Supreme Court case brought by a baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.

As most of you are aware, the baker–routinely described as very pious–has argued that forcing him to sell one of his cakes to a same-sex couples would not only violate his religious liberty, but would amount to “compelled speech.” That is, he argues that civil rights laws requiring him to do business with people he considers immoral are really compelling him to affirm his approval of that immorality.

The free speech argument appears to be a fallback, in case the Supreme Court doesn’t buy the religious liberty one. In any event, most people who are aware of the controversy see the conflict as one pitting respect for “sincere religious belief” against the rights of LGBTQ citizens to be free of discrimination.

As the study found, it really isn’t.

I vividly recall a conversation I had many years ago with a friend I knew to be a truly nice person. He wasn’t a bigot. I was Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU at the time, and he understood the organization to be a defender of individual liberty and the proposition that the power of government (and popular majorities) to prescribe our behaviors is limited by the Bill of Rights.

He wanted to know why the ACLU didn’t think civil rights laws violated individual liberty.  Doesn’t “freedom” include the freedom to discriminate?

The study cited by the Star confirms the continued salience of his long-ago question.

People who believe businesses should be able to deny services to same-sex couples aren’t necessarily citing religious reasons for discriminating, a new study by Indiana University sociologists has found.

Instead, many simply believe businesses should be able to deny services to whomever they want — even though that violates civil rights laws that protect certain classes of people….

Slightly more than half of those surveyed said they supported a business denying wedding services to a same-sex couple, whether the business cited religious opposition to same-sex marriage or non-religious reasons.

Ninety percent of self-identified Republicans said that businesses should be able to choose who they do business with.

I’ve been in these discussions, and more often than not, people who believe civil rights laws deprive them of their liberty will say something like: “what about those signs that say ‘no shoes, no shirt, no service?” or “the government shouldn’t make the kosher butcher sell ham,” or “what if a Nazi asked the baker for a swastika cake?”

I will restrain myself from launching into one of my “civic ignorance” diatribes, and merely point out that civil rights laws do not deprive merchants of their liberty to refuse service based upon a customer’s behavior. Merchants also retain the liberty to decide what goods they will sell (if a menswear store refuses to stock dresses for sale to a female customer, that doesn’t violate anyone’s civil rights.)

Civil rights laws prohibit discrimination based upon the identity of customers who are members of legally specified classes. (FYI: Nazis aren’t a protected class.)

Do those laws curtail a merchant’s “liberty” to discriminate? Yes. So do laws prohibiting religious parents from “whipping the devil” out of their children, and a variety of other “sincere” behaviors deemed damaging or dangerous to society.

Here’s the deal–the “social contract.”

When a merchant opens a shop on a public street, he depends upon local police and firefighters to protect his property. He depends upon government to maintain the streets and sidewalks that allow customers to access his store, and the roads, railways and air lanes that carry his merchandise from the manufacturer to his shelves. In return for those and other public services that make it possible for him to conduct his business, government expects him to pay his taxes, and obey applicable laws–including civil rights laws that protect historically marginalized groups against his disdain.

The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker retain their liberty to advertise that disdain. They retain the liberty to lobby for repeal of civil rights laws. They retain the right to exclude people they consider immoral or unpleasant or just “different” from their social gatherings, their churches and their homes.

As I’ve often said, if you don’t like gay people, you don’t have to invite them to dinner. You just have to take their money when it’s proffered in a commercial transaction.Is that really an intolerable invasion of your liberty?