Right-wing California Republican Dana Rohrabacher, locked in a tough primary battle for his House seat, said last week that homeowners selling a property should have the right to turn away LGBTQ buyers. In response, the National Association of Realtors rightly withdrew its recommendation that members donate to his campaign.
The sentiment is bigoted and outrageous. And it may seem preposterous to many people. But it is actually the next logical step after allowing bakers to turn away gay couples seeking to purchase wedding cakes, which the U.S. Supreme Court may do at any time as we await a decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
“Every homeowner should be able to make a decision not to sell their home to someone [if] they don’t agree with their lifestyle,” Rohrabacher said to a group of local realtors in his Orange County district. He later confirmed to The Orange County Register that homeowners should have the right to “choose who they do business with,” adding that “a homeowner should not be required to be in business with someone they think is doing something that is immoral.”
This is the very bias that African-Americans and other minorities have faced for decades in this country, as bigoted homeowners have dedicated themselves to keeping neighborhoods white and “pure” even as they’re moving out themselves. Federal and state laws ban this kind of racial discrimination ― the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, banning home sellers and landlords from discriminating against racial and religious minorities ― but it still goes on, often eluding the law. And the same is true of homeowners who are anti-gay and don’t want to sully the neighborhood with a queer couple next door.
But while California and a handful of other states ban such discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the FHA doesn’t include queer people. And getting LGBTQ people added to the FHA with a Republican-controlled Congress and a president brutally hostile to LGBTQ rights is just not going to happen.
Last year a federal judge, in a first, ruled that LGBTQ people are in fact protected under the FHA. But if the Supreme Court rules that a baker may turn away a gay couple seeking a wedding cake ― and that seemed to be a very real possibility during oral arguments last fall ― all bets are off as to how the court might rule in other areas.
That’s because the arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case center on the baker’s “religious liberty,” something that Justice Neil Gorsuch broadly views as allowing for discrimination ― and which the Supreme Court previously allowed for in the Hobby Lobby decision. That ruling allows employers to opt out of offering contraception to women in their health care plans based on corporate owners’ religious beliefs.
Rohrabacher’s comments show how deeply rooted bigotry against LGBTQ people is, and how religion is used to exempt it.
But if “religious liberty” is reason for a baker who’s open to the general public to say he can’t make a wedding cake for a gay couple, why should it be any different for a landlord or a home seller or a bank, all serving the general public? If religious liberty is paramount, then, as Rohrabacher said, a homeowner “shouldn’t be required to be in business with someone they think is doing something that is immoral.”
Rohrabacher’s comments expose the slippery slope the Supreme Court might put us on. They also underscore how deeply rooted bigotry against LGBTQ people is, and how religion is used to exempt it.
“We’ve drawn a line on racism, but I don’t think we should extend that line,” Rohrabacher told the Register, attempting to distinguish anti-LGBTQ bigotry from other kinds. But the slippery slope continues, since someone’s religious beliefs might include discriminating against people of other races or faiths.
Rohrabacher’s beliefs are extreme. And, hopefully, he’ll lose in November as Democrats target him in a district won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. But such sentiments are actually closer to becoming the law of the land than many people might think.
Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter @msignorile.