Bruce Barron, a Pittsburgh resident and former staffer for Rick Santorum, penned a loathsome piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette requesting that the LGBTQ community offer Christians an olive branch.
He's suggesting that we allow Christian business owners "conscientious objector" status with regard to discriminating against LGBTQ persons in private business matters. Like baking wedding cakes. Or renting an apartment. That sort of thing.
Letting some business owners exercise their conscience would cause no harm to gays. OK, a few couples in Oklahoma might have to get their cake shipped from Austin. But overall, gays are a lucrative market, not an economically disadvantaged class. The tourist websites of numerous major cities (including Chicago, Houston, Miami, Seattle and Pittsburgh) explicitly cater to gays. To my knowledge, none market directly to Christians.
So let me break down the absurdity of this piece.
First, this "CO" proposal would create a slippery slope of tolerating discrimination in many situations that could cause harm. Who would determine what conscience beliefs warrant an exemption? And where it would end? The obvious suggestions (and very likely) would be discriminating against race, class and religious beliefs. Is the deeply held belief about living together outside of marriage or avoiding divorce or prohibiting interracial marriages any less of a reason to allow someone to refuse to bake a cake? Discrimination is discrimination. When you enter a social contract with society to operate a business, you agree to certain constraints. That's how it has always worked. Conscientious objectors are objecting to compulsory military service (or enlistment) whereas no one forces a business owner to go into business baking cakes or renting apartments. They are two very distinct experiences. If you don't want to serve the LGBTQ community, don't go into business -- do something else. No one is forcing you to run away to Canada or go underground for Pete's sake. No business owner is conscripted to open shop.
Second, "gays" (aka LGBTQ people) are in fact an economically disadvantaged class. Our rates of poverty and unemployment are higher than the general population. Forty percent of our youth are homeless, often because of the religious beliefs of parents. Twenty-nine percent of us experienced hunger in the year 2013. WESA 90.5 just aired a solid piece exploring these realities for local LGBTQ people. It is worth your time to listen/read the segment.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have FACTS when discussing the LGBTQ community. You might dispute the facts, but the perception of "gay affluence" is based on myth -- not facts established by well-respected research entities and data.
Third, the idea that tourism doesn't market to Christians is also wrong. Sherris Moreira, a local tourism professional, soundly debunks this claim.
Religious tourism not only rates high in popularity in the past few years, but whole tourism sales shows and conventions are dedicated to religious and church tourism catering to church groups, whereas at 'traditional' tourism sales shows and conventions, catering to the 'gays' in tourism sometimes barely rates a 2 hour workshop. According to the NTA (National Tourism Alliance) website, the UN World Tourism Organization claims that '330 million people every year take faith-based trips and that 25 percent of travelers are interested in spiritual vacations, according to U.S. Travel Association data.' It is considered a constantly growing market and is well catered to and marketed to group because of those numbers.
But let me add something a little sobering, in comparison to being "offended" by "gays" wanting to be treated the same at businesses as "everyone else" (i.e. non-"gays"). Safety is the basis of LGBTQ tourism and still is a huge consideration when traveling - knowing the places to visit that they can safely enjoy their travel -- and that travel in numbers (so cruise ship or other kinds of group tours focused on LGBTQ folks) aren't just about comfort levels, but sincerely about security , though thankfully, with the changing laws and viewpoints, that is becoming a bit less of a consideration, though always a concern. Being inconvenienced because of a prejudiced belief system is nothing compared to being in fear of one's life.
Again, facts are important.
Finally, Mr. Barron slyly ropes in Muslims, Catholics and Mormons to his alliance by implying that their shared distaste for all things LGBTQ creates common cause.
Conservative Catholics, evangelicals, Mormons, Muslims and others refuse to embrace homosexual behavior; gay advocates seek to render impotent in public life any worldview that denies their legitimacy. This issue has already torn religious denominations apart.
Yes, when I think of tolerance, my mind immediately goes to Evangelical Christians breaking bread with their Muslim neighbors. Oh wait ... When is the last time you heard of a gay man burning the Koran? This is a false argument because evangelicals have made no bones about their enmity to the Catholic Church and others who don't agree with their worldview. It was just recently that the media brought to light cultural appropriation tactics by the Monroeville Assembly of God, including stalking people outside of their places of worship, targeting the local Hindi community. In Pittsburgh, the Monroeville Assembly of God does not belong to any interfaith religion ministerium. Catholics, Protestants, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim representatives do belong.
Mr. Barron has nicely illustrated a tactic we'll likely see often repeated in the coming years -- religious liberty is necessary to protect Christians from the gay agenda. He claims persecution in the business sector, suggests temporary alliances for the greater good and falsifies the magnitude of the LGBTQ community's influence.
Let me remind you of this important fact. Pennsylvania has never legislated statewide LGBTQ rights. Many bills have been introduced, one even passed but was overturned in Court based on procedural rules. Instead, we have two statewide rights -- marriage equality and second-parent adoption - both achieved through the court system. Our General Assembly has done nothing. In October, we had three openly gay, white, cis gender men serving in the Assembly. Come January, we'll have one.
How many of these elected officials are Christian? How many are Catholic? Muslim? Mormon? Jewish? One is a gay man. How is that persecution?
We must resist not only the ridiculous idea of conscientious objection in the marketplace, but also hold fast against this artificial foundation for a political battle involving "religious liberty." People of faith, especially Christians, are not being oppressed in Pennsylvania, not even a little bit. To suggest otherwise disregard the very real struggles people experience trying to raise their families, hold their jobs and live their lives when they encounter barriers such as racism or poverty or gender bias.
One final note: Mr. Barron is not new to the role of imposing his religious values on the rest of us. He was the impetus behind "No Dice" -- a citizen effort to fight the legalization of casinos and slot machines. And while reading his website, I found this interesting tidbit:
Here in Pennsylvania a dysfunctional state legislature continues to hoodwink the people with promised benefits while acting as if the documentable 2 to 3 percent of the adult population who suffer from serious gambling addiction are expendable.
You know who else accounts for 2-3 percent of the adult population? The LGBTQ community. I guess we are expendable in this case?
Full Disclosure: In 1991, I was an intern with then-Congressman Rick Santorum for six months and worked with Bruce Barron who was based in the district office. I was in D.C. We spoke a few times on the phone and met casually at work events.
A version of this post first appeared on Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents blog.