Discrimination: the cutting edge
This is the kind of thing that sets the bigots foaming at the mouth (even more than they already do, I mean), and, more damagingly, makes some less-prejudiced but not-too-thoughtful people think they might have a point. Aren't the owners of a private business entitled to turn down customers for reasons rooted in their own religious beliefs? Isn't this an example of gays getting pushy and forcing their agenda on people, just like the Christian Right says?
It's a debatable issue, or at least looks like one. Brayton, however, includes this very clarifying paragraph in his own discussion:
Some Christians claim that requiring them to serve gay custo- mers in any context is a violation of their religious freedom. But if it is, it is exactly the same as requiring them to serve customers of every race or gender. Discrimination on the basis of race can be and historically has been based on religion as well, yet almost no one seriously argues today that any business should be able to turn away a black person. Who is going to stand up and say that a business should be allowed to refuse to hire women because their sincerely-held religious beliefs tell them that women should stay at home and not work?
And suddenly the matter comes into perspective, courtesy of Jim Crow and those segregated lunch counters of decades past. The law has long banned racial discrimination by businesses which provide public accommodation, and everyone accepts that as legitimate (well, almost everyone). So I don't see how it can be anything other than equally legitimate to ban such discrimination where gays are the victims.
The fundies will raise flaming hell, of course, because in their eyes the "right" to discriminate against gays (and attack them in other ways, for that matter) is apparently the most precious religious freedom there is. But if we're going to ban discrimination in public accommodation, we can't make exceptions just because a business owner's prejudices are rooted in religious belief. Racial prejudice was sometimes defended on religious grounds too, and as Brayton notes, many clear and explicit restrictions on women can be found in the various religions' holy texts.
Either we as a society are serious about equal protection, or we're not.
Oh, and the fact that organized religion is perceived as hostile to gays is a big part of why more and more Americans, and especially the young, are turning away from religion. The fundies should think carefully about whether they really want to choose this as their place to draw the line.