Suppose McDonald's would not serve anyone who had been divorced? Suppose Walmart would not hire any mothers who had a child born out of wedlock? Suppose hospitals would not treat anyone who used contraception? And most important, should states protect such conduct through legislation? The governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, is considering legislation that would allow business owners to cite religious beliefs as a legal justification for denying service to same-sex couples. (N.Y.Times 2/22/14)
We generally recognize that businesses have the right to choose with whom they deal. They can refuse for a variety of reasons -- all of which would be recognizable and acceptable. But a conflict arises when assertion of religious reasons results in discrimination and deprives persons of goods or services otherwise available to the general public. In its purest form, the Arizona legislation and others like it are declaring that a business can refuse to deal with a customer because their religious beliefs differ. The questions posed above hopefully demonstrate what a slippery slope this would be. Would religious opposition to homosexuality (apart from same-sex marriage) be sufficient to refuse to do business with all gay persons?
The headline of the Times article reads: "Religious Right Cheers a Bill Allowing Refusal to Serve Gays." While the religious right cheers, the rest of the country should be moaning. Those who choose not to do business with gays because of their religious beliefs (or their bigotry) should be free to do so and be prepared to suffer the consequences if their conduct is deemed to be unlawful. However, for the state to encourage, codify and memorialize such discrimination is a disgrace. I marvel at those who receive special immunity from lawmakers: the gun industry, the stand-your-ground shooter and now those who discriminate against gays.
When your religious belief keeps you from making a cake for or taking a picture of two happy people, maybe it's the belief that needs changing -- not the legislation.