Monday, April 13, 2015

The Need for Mutual Respect in the Debate of Gay Rights vs. Religious Rights

There seems to be a lot of overblown and heated rhetoric in the news recently pitting gay rights against religious rights, thanks to an irresponsible media whipping up stories where none really existed. Let’s look at two theoretical scenarios of just how such issues could play out.

Scenario 1
Gay man: Hi, I would like to order a wedding cake for me and my husband-to-be’s wedding.

Bakery owner:  I don’t think so.  I don’t serve homosexuals for any event, especially weddings.  In fact, you need to leave my store right now!

Gay man:  Whatever.  I am going to make damn sure your business is boycotted and ruined, you hateful bigot.

Scenario 2
Gay man: Hi, I would like to order a wedding cake for me and my husband-to-be’s wedding.

Bakery owner:  Well, I really am very sorry.  My religious beliefs dictate that I cannot help you out with your wedding though.  I certainly don’t have any animus against you and will be happy to serve you with whatever other needs you might have such as pastries, birthday cakes, and so on.  I do hope that I don’t lose your future business because of this.  I also hope you understand and can respect my position and the fact that I must follow the dictates of my conscience and faith.

Gay man:  Well that is disappointing to hear because you do have wonderful cakes.  I can appreciate that you are trying to live life according to your conscience though. Can you recommend another bakery that might be able to help me?

Bakery owner:  I don’t know for sure.  There is that bakery on Main Street that you might try though. Their cakes are nearly as good as mine.  (laughs)

Gay man:  Okay.  Thanks.  I’ll try over there instead.

For some reason, it seems that collectively we as a human race are losing all common sense and decency when it comes to how we treat and respect each other. These scenario’s present just two options of how the same situation could be handled. Although this begs the question, shouldn’t respect for each other be something that ALL people practice?

Indiana and Arkansas have now passed state versions of a law mirroring the bi-partisan federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, which was introduced by former Democrat Congressman, now Senator, Chuck Schumer, which passed the House unanimously then the Senate to win by a 97 - 3 vote, and was then signed into law by President Bill Clinton.  The difference is that the new Indiana law, which is essentially the same as the federal one, has caused nothing but hate and discontent.

Gay rights advocates assume this Indiana law will protect wide-spread discrimination against them. They fear that the new norm under this law that twenty states now have on the books will allow something similar to scenario 1 above to become commonplace.

I am certain there are people in America that would act just like that and there are people of differing faiths with just such a mindset.  However, there are even more people, including Christians, that would not respond in such a way.  I would hope that most people would be sufficiently polite and respectful of each other, even if they have disagreements, to act more like the second scenario. Indeed, in our nation of diverse views and beliefs, wouldn’t it be far better if we could show respect towards one another, even when we disagree?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could behave like the two gentlemen in the latter, rather than the former scenario?

Now if a gay person were indeed to be denied service by a business merely because of the fact that he or she was gay, then a legitimate case of discrimination could be made.   But if a gay person is insisting on service that goes against the conscience of the business provider, then isn’t that a violation of the business owner’s ability to exercise their first amendment right to freedom of religion?   Respect for each other’s rights MUST be a two way street.  Unfortunately, this is not what seems to be happening lately.

Recently in Walkerton, Indiana, a local business named Memories Pizza experienced the wrath of those that were against the business owners abiding by their consciences and faith.  A local ABC news affiliate was trying to create a story by canvassing local businesses after the passage of the state’s religious freedom restoration act. They happened to strike pay-dirt when they asked the co-owner of this family-owned pizza parlor if they would hypothetically cater a gay wedding.  The owner said that her religious beliefs would not allow her to do that.  Even though the business happily serves gay people on a regular basis, the uproar caused by this small business owner simply stating her beliefs, has brought forth chaos, death threats, and even a local high school coach advocating others to march with him to burn the business down.  Needless to say, the family had to close their business and go into hiding for a week until the initial outrage passed.

Douglas Laycock, a constitutional scholar at the University of Virginia Law School who helped win passage of the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said no one has ever successfully used such laws to override nondiscrimination statutes. He expressed frustration that gay rights advocates seem to be ignoring this in their attack on the Indiana law.  “I don’t know if they don’t know that, or whether they’re pandering to their base,” Laycock said.

States began passing their own Religious Freedom Restoration Acts after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the federal law didn’t apply to states; consequently, twenty states now have their own Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.

The Indiana law, the federal law and those of the other 19 states with similar laws do not even mention the words “gay”, “marriage”, or “homosexual” anywhere within them.  It wasn’t drafted to be an “anti-gay” bill, but rather to allow a defense in court for businesses had  they felt  they were being forced to participate in actions that went against their consciences or religious convictions.

Former Senator Santorum summarized the debate quite aptly on Face the Nation two weeks ago.
“No business should discriminate … because of who you are,” Santorum said. “But it should have the ability to say, ‘We’re not going to participate in certain activities that we disagree with on a religious point of view.’” …”If you’re a print shop and you are a gay man, should you be forced to print ‘God Hates Fags’ for the Westboro Baptist Church because they hold those signs up?” he asked. “Should the government force you to do that? And that’s what these cases are all about. This is about the government coming in and saying, ‘No, we’re going to make you do this.’ And his is where I think we just need some space to say, ‘Let’s have some tolerance (and) be a two-way street.”

Indeed!  Simply because many Americans have a religious belief that God created us male and female, and that marriage is a sacrament that unites these two basic expressions of humanity in a unique covenant, really does not amount to a form of bigotry.  We, as Americans, need to respect each other, even when we disagree with each other.  Hatefulness on either side of this debate only serves to exacerbate an already out-of-control matter.  The ultimate victim if we persist with such a lack of tolerance and respect for each other will be our God given and constitutionally protected right to live our lives according to the dictates of our conscience and faith.  That is an America I do not want to live in!


Jerry Critter said...

Using religion to justify bigotry somehow just does not seem right. Perhaps, I don't know, maybe that is one of the attractions of religion. It makes me say..

Jerry Critter said...

"Say" should be sad.

T. Paine said...

Jerry, respectfully, I think you are missing the point. If someone is denying service to another person because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., then that is unacceptable and is indeed bigotry. If someone does not want to partake in even a peripheral way in an event, ritual, rite, sacrament, etc. that violates their conscience or religious faith, then they should not have to do so. Do you really believe otherwise, my friend?

Do you think a gay print shop owner should be forced to print a sign saying “God hates fags” for the Westboro Baptist Church? Do you think a florist shop owner who is black should have to provide flowers for a KKK event? And do you think that a person who’s faith teaches him that marriage is a holy sacrament between a man and a woman should be forced to provide a cake for a gay wedding?

If you think that the force of government should be brought to bear on those who are not acting out of bigotry but rather are living their lives by their faith and/or conscience, then that makes me very sad, Jerry.

Jerry Critter said...

When " living their lives by their faith and/or conscience" permits acts of bigotry, I consider that using your religion to justify bigotry.

T. Paine said...

Is that akin to the bigotry against some Christians, Muslims, etc. practiced by some gay people and their supporters who are upset that those people living their faith won’t violate it for the gay person’s benefit? Wouldn’t it be easier to simply find another proprietor that will serve them? But that isn’t what some people want. They aren’t wanting mutual respect and acceptance. They are wanting complete support of their lifestyle and anyone that does not celebrate their choices is branded as a hateful bigot. I wonder how long until orthodox Christianity is outlawed in the United States, considering how politically correct we have become as a nation. It is my opinion that we all need to be kind and respectful towards one another, but we should not be forced to violate our own consciences in how we live our lives in order to show that respect. Unfortunately, I suspect that you and I will simply have to continue to disagree on this issue, Jerry.

Jerry Critter said...

No one is forcing another to accommodate gay people in their church. But when you have a public business serving the public, you should serve all the public, not just those your religion say you should.

After all, individuals ignore church teachings all the time in serving the public. I don't recall picking and choosing being one of the commandments.

T. Paine said...

But Jerry, that really isn’t true. I think most churches gladly welcome gay people. We are all sinners and in need of Christ’s mercy. What better way to find that then by worshiping Him in His house? What most orthodox Christian churches don’t welcome is when they are told that thousands of years of tradition and sacred scripture are wrong and must be discarded in order to accommodate sin in the name of political correctness.

I agree that public businesses should serve all of the public all of the time, except when a customer insists on your serving them in a manner that violates your faith and conscience. NOBODY should have a right to force you to violate your conscience, most especially not our federal government which was primarily and purposefully empowered to protect the American citizens from becoming American subjects by protecting those very rights.

Simply going to church each week does not make one a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes a person into a car. Truly being a Christian means to live that life to the very best of one’s abilities every day of the week. And that includes trying to stay away from sin or being a part of another’s sin. You are right; picking and choosing is not one of the commandments. It is because of this that Christians cannot pick and choose which sins they will be participants with, even in peripheral areas.