21 September 2011

Discrimination: the cutting edge

Ed Brayton reports on a story of a type which is going to become more common. In brief, a gay couple in Illinois planned to hold a civil-commitment ceremony (actual gay marriage is not legal in Illinois yet). They approached two hotels about renting facilities, only to be turned down by both, for explicitly-stated reasons of anti-gay prejudice. Now they're planning to sue for discrimination.

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.


Blogger KJ said...

I can't wait to see the libertarian response to it. "You're removing my freedom by preventing me from being a bigot!"

21 September, 2011 19:14  
Anonymous nonnie9999 said...

the only way to get through to people like that is for them to lose business. i hope a lot of straight couples cancel their reservations to show that prejudice is not okay.

21 September, 2011 20:01  
Blogger John Myste said...

It's a bad thing when a large group of people think they have religious justification for hatred. What makes it so horrible is that they do have some justification. Their mythology suggests that it is OK, and to them, this it reflects "the real world." They would be irrational to ignore the real world.

50 years from now, we will all laugh at this, because those who hate gays will seem as backward as those who hated blacks now seem. Even if Christianity survives, this will be another one of God's laws that Christians decide is wrong. Somehow they will decide that God no longer things gays are so bad.

21 September, 2011 21:37  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shreddakj: That's the attitude the fundies already have -- every objection to gay-bashing is a Stalinist suppression of their "religious liberty".

Nonnie: It would be interesting to know if that's happening. Unfortunately there are still enough bigots out there to form a sizable customer base.

JM: Even if the fundies eventually become tolerant of gays, they'll probably go on a crusade against sex with robots or something. They're just not happy unless they've got something to disapprove of.

22 September, 2011 04:08  
Blogger Nicole said...

Even with all of the information available and all of the science to back-up that homosexuality is not a choice, but a biological norm, these people insist otherwise. I don't think there's anything that can be done to radically change their thinking, but I am hopeful that a growing number of young people are growing up believing the truth and that change will happen as they take their place in the world.

I would be happy to see some kind of resource that listed businesses and companies that discriminated against homosexuals in these kinds of situations. Not just hiring practices, but in consumer situations. I'm a heterosexual person, but I do not wish to support companies or individuals that conduct themselves in such hateful ways. Maybe this already exists and I just don't know about it.

22 September, 2011 06:59  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nicole: This are mostly people who don't believe in evolution or anthropogenic global warming either. They go by faith, not evidence.

Good point about a register of businesses that discriminate. There may well be such a thing, at least for the most egregious ones. I plan to do some checking.

22 September, 2011 07:25  
Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

Religion, keeping the Dark Ages alive and well.

22 September, 2011 13:28  
Blogger Ahab said...

Some fundies just can't accept that their religion is no longer the dominant force in society.

23 September, 2011 09:08  

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