“We don’t discriminate but we don’t serve gay people.” Huh?

I keep hearing this from people in the media, most notably small business owners such as the owner of Memories Pizza:

“We’re not discriminating against anyone, that’s just our belief and anyone has the right to believe in anything,” says O’Connor.

We heard the same line from 111 Cakery last year:

“[The owner] said, ‘We don’t do that [cake for commitment ceremony]. If I can help you with anything else, but we don’t discriminate.’

This is a little strange, right? They freely admit they’re unwilling to serve these couples, yet at the same time they are adamant that they do not discriminate. How can this be?

It’s so frustrating because it feels like they’re deliberately denying a rather obvious truth, that denying service based on sexual orientation is pretty much the very definition of discrimination.

What’s more infuriating is that Mike Pence in particular takes the same approach. After much thought, shame on Mike Pence and the state legislators who voted for this. It’s their job to know better and to protect ALL Hoosiers.

I’m not sure I feel the same about the small business owners who have been caught off guard by this discussion. It’s not their job to think deeply about these issues and how they impact all people. I think it’s clear from the additional context of their comments that they really don’t see this as discrimination.

Memories Pizza, for example, made it clear that they would serve anyone in their restaurant, regardless of religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any other reason. Their objection is to catering a same-gender wedding, which they have never been asked to do before and don’t anticipate being asked to do so anytime in the future.

The owners of 111 Cakery expressed similar sentiments. They were happy to provide other services, just not for a same-gender ceremony.

I think in each of these circumstances, the owners do not see themselves as being discriminatory. They feel uncomfortable being at a religious ceremony for a practice they don’t endorse. I’m not sure why they feel providing food for an event they don’t agree with is so traumatic for them, but they’re entitled to their emotions.

There’s another component to this that I’ve discovered recently: Knowledge of basic civics lessons is badly overestimated in our society. I’ve had numerous people, many of whom lived through the civil rights movement, tell me recently that LGBT people should not be given special privileges.

They continue on to say “If I own a restaurant and I don’t want to serve an African-American or a Muslim or anyone else, I don’t have to. I can refuse service to anyone for any reason I want, so why should I be forced to serve gay people if I don’t want to?”

This ignorance about basic civil rights informs their view more than their desire to engage in discrimination. Many freely admit that they wouldn’t discriminate personally but that they feel people should have the right to do so. They don’t realize that private business owners do not have this ‘right’ already. A restaurant putting up a sign saying they can refuse service to anyone at any time for any reason doesn’t mean it’s actually legal to do so.

Unfortunately, these views are reinforced by politicians like Mike Pence, who deliberately obfuscate the issues and use the uninformed pubic to build a case that bears little resemblance to reality. This is one more reason why it’s so critical to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. It’s also a terrific opportunity to remind people of the protections in place for Hoosiers and all Americans.

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There’s 2 Kinds of Dumb. Indiana’s Legislators are the Second Kind.

Hoosiers

Look, mister, there’s… two kinds of dumb, uh… guy that gets naked and runs out in the snow and barks at the moon, and, uh, guy who does the same thing in my living room. First one don’t matter, the second one you’re kinda forced to deal with.
-George, “Hoosiers”


No question, Mike Pence and the state legislators who voted for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) are the second kind of dumb. In my previous post, I laid out my belief about why this law was passed. Here, I’ll discuss why this law is just so stupid, unnecessary, and hurtful to everyone.

RFRA is stupid.

Republicans regularly paint themselves as the party of the job creators and of small government. Well, is this law helping or hurting job creation? Our state is losing millions of dollars in potential conventions, sporting events, business travel, and other opportunities. The damage to the hospitality industry in Indianapolis won’t be known possibly for years. It’s not irreparable (I hope), but it is an incredibly stupid self-inflicted wound that serves no real purpose.

As for Indiana Republicans’ small-government mantra, it was only a few weeks ago that Governor Pence tried to develop his own state-run news service before being shamed into abandoning it shortly after it was announced. The RFRA debacle is just another misstep for a party that continues to shoot itself in the foot.

If you truly believe in small government, there should be a compelling reason to pass a new law. After all, it only makes sense that passing unnecessary laws would not be consistent with a small-government philosophy.

Yes or no: Is there a compelling reason for RFRA?
No. (See what I did there?)

Why do I say there’s not a compelling reason for this law? Well…

RFRA is unnecessary.

This law is not seeking to address any actual, real-world problem. There are no cases in Indiana that lack a process to resolve disputes. With all the obsessive attention lavished on this law, I have yet to hear of a single case in Indiana that this law purports to address.

I do however, know of an instance very recently in Indianapolis where a company did in fact deny a gay couple service due to their religious objections. What happened?

The couple wanted to celebrate their love with a commitment ceremony in April. Mike called 111 Cakery downtown to order a cake.

“[The owner] said, ‘We don’t do that. If I can help you with anything else, but we don’t discriminate.’ That was the end of it,” he said. “It’s disappointing.”

“…We found someone that will do it for us so we’re going to focus on the good,” said Mike.

This is how Hoosiers often solve our problems. Our goal is not to bend others to our will through sheer force but to believe in the goodness of each other and trust that those who don’t exhibit these qualities won’t be around long. (Indeed, 111 Cakery is no longer in business, although the owners stress their closing is unrelated to this incident.)

As I said, this law is unnecessary. But when a law like this is passed, people no longer default to their more informal ‘live and let live’ agreements. Some feel emboldened to put their new-found ‘religious freedom’ to the test just to prove they can. These disputes now become a battle of wills instead of a burden of conscience. It becomes a question of whether or not you can discriminate instead of whether or not you should discriminate.

That means lawyers and at that point we all lose. Stupid and unnecessary (or at least it has been unnecessary to this point in history).

And that brings us to this…

RFRA is hurtful to everyone.

Most Hoosiers got along just fine before this, relatively speaking. Now, we have been forced to choose sides. As proud citizens of Indiana, we are left to explain why, if we are not intolerant people, we choose representatives who pass legislation like this.

Good people who have sincere, thoughtful objections to homosexuality have been painted as uncaring, hateful bigots. Communities that have long accepted the LGBT community as their own have been forced to explicitly proclaim they are not intolerant. They feel the need to do so to avoid being caught up in the maelstrom caused by legislators who insist on fighting culture wars at the government level instead of helping our state’s economy and letting the culture address its issues privately, individually.

Our state legislators have accomplished a rare feat. They have somehow managed to piss off nearly everyone in the country (from all sides), potentially lose millions of dollars in business, divide Hoosiers against each other, and gravely damage the meaning of ‘Hoosier Hospitality.’

And for what? To reassert something that was never an issue in the first place? To remind the LGBT community that some will always see them as second-class citizens? Oh, right. None of this is about discrimination. Except it is. The legislature was warned about this poorly written law by the legal community but they pushed it through anyway.

These legislators are the second kind of dumb and now we’re forced to deal with them. I can’t wait for Election Day.

RFRA in Indiana: A Last Gasp of Bigotry in a Lost Culture War

Pence

From what I can tell, no one really wants the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to be signed into law, with the exception of the lawmakers who passed it. To be honest, I think at this point even they probably just wish they’d left well enough alone and not bothered.

Here’s what I think has happened. I think our representatives in state government are predominantly old, white men who are angry that the world is changing. They see their privilege and status being upended by a society that is changing the rules quickly, largely due to the democratizing power of the internet. They don’t understand this new world, they don’t see how they will be useful in it, and this frightens them.

Their response is to try to mandate the perpetuation of their culture by codifying their world as they understand it into law. Remember, it was only 2004 that George Bush’s re-election was largely attributed to ‘values voters’. Their primary value, of course, being opposition to recognizing the dignity of our LGBT friends, family, and neighbors.

Indiana’s state legislators still live in this world. In their minds, they must protect our children from being ‘turned gay’ by the homosexual agenda. They must defend those ‘Christians’ who are sure that God despises homosexuals. No, enough is enough. Somehow, these brave state legislators are all that stands between us and the wrath of God and they will not let society be destroyed by these Godless liberals, not on their watch.

What these legislators have failed to realize is that in the decade or so since that election, the world changed. Many gay people stopped hiding in the shadows. They decided to stop apologizing, stop pretending to be someone they are not.

A funny thing then happened in American culture. Almost all at once, it seemed that everyone actually knew a gay person. More surprisingly for many, that gay person was an aunt, a cousin, a coworker, a friend, an old college roommate. It was someone they absolutely knew to be a good, moral, and kind person. And in short order, a very large number of Americans began to question the narrative of gay people as evil fornicators intent on recruiting your children to the homosexual lifestyle. Scientific studies began to debunk much of what we had been told about the nature of homosexuality.

And that brings us to today. Most Americans have ‘evolved’ on the issue of same-gender marriage, to use President Obama’s terminology. Most Americans believe that LGBT people should have the right to visit their spouse or partner in the hospital, receive death benefits, and be treated equally under the law. Most Americans now see members of the LGBT community as *gasp* actual people.

Indiana state legislators, apparently, are not like most Americans. They see our gay neighbors, family, and friends as ‘other’. Gay people are not worthy of the same treatment afforded to other Americans, or even other humans. They are fundamentally different in a way that renders them subhuman. Our legislators have made it clear that their view is this: “If you want to live with gay people, fine. But no one is going to tell me that I have to serve them a meal, treat their illness, or sell them a truck.”

If I believe my religion says gay people are viewed by my God as an abomination, then I should not have to recognize them as anything but that. To treat them the same as I treat anyone else is to bestow a recognition of their humanity that violates my conscience, angers my God, and places my eternal soul in jeopardy, according to these arguments.

Of course these same arguments have been used to justify prejudice and bigotry throughout history. Listen to the slave-owner in 12 Years A Slave reciting biblical scripture to explain their subjugation. It was disgusting then and it’s every bit as disgusting now.

Governor Mike Pence and our Indiana legislators who voted to pass SB 101 know they have lost. They know that our society has already accepted things they cannot conceive. It’s the reason they were desperate to get a state constitutional amendment banning same-gender marriage before the tide turned completely against them. That attempt failed and it’s not been mentioned since, I assume because they know it will never again have a chance of passing.

The failure of that law to make it to a ballot measure enraged many conservatives. As a result, I think legislators felt a need to demonstrate that they were still fighting on this issue. The Hobby Lobby decision opened up an avenue for them to save face on the basis of advocating for ‘religious freedom’. Who doesn’t love religious freedom?

I think they thought they would pass this bill and it would give them a badge of honor they could wear when visiting their bigoted constituents with lots of money. Unfortunately, they underestimated public sentiment, the new voice of progressive faith communities, and the economic impact of this decision on our state. The probable loss of GenCon is just one example of the millions of dollars of lost business we will see because of this publicity stunt.

The sad thing is, this law is completely unnecessary in every respect. Don’t believe me? Ask 111 Cakery if they were ever forced to make that cake for a gay commitment ceremony they felt violated their beliefs. Spoiler: They weren’t.

Now Indiana, which has worked so hard to shed the image of a cultural backwater, is back to being portrayed as a bunch of bigoted rednecks. That’s not who Hoosiers are, despite our troubled past with racism.

To the rest of America, I ask you not to judge our state by the actions of our representatives. Get to know us as individuals and you will find that we are not the monsters you might imagine. That approach helped America see the LGBT community as people worthy of dignity and respect, despite their reputation; maybe it will work for Hoosiers as well.


Update: Think I’m wrong about this being a consolation prize to advocates of banning gay marriage? Guess who these groups represent:

Rachel Held Evans on Jesus, Religious Liberty, and Discrimination

I recently wrote about the owners of 111 Cakery refusing to make a cake for a gay couple’s commitment ceremony. The owners of that business should really read this post from Rachel Held Evans. Like, stop making cakes for five minutes and read it now. From Ms. Evans’ blog post:

But what I want to address here is whether followers of Jesus should devote their time and efforts to rallying in support of legislation that would empower business owners to deny services to gay and lesbian people  (many of whom are fellow Christians, by the way)…

[A]s Christians, our most “deeply held religious belief” is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinful people, and that in imitation of that, we are called to love God, to love our neighbors, and to love even our enemies to the point of death. 

So I think we can handle making pastries for gay people. 

And I think that refusing to serve gay and lesbian people, and advancing legislation that denies others their civil liberties in response to perceived threats to our own, does irreparable damage to our witness as Christians and leaves a whole group of people feeling like second-class citizens, not only in our country, but also in the Kingdom.

I think it’s important to note that Ms. Evans is writing this from an evangelical Christian point of view. After watching the documentary Jesus Camp last night, I’m relieved to know that not everyone shares the Jesus Camp mentality of being literal ‘Christian warriors.’

I also hope that this experience has invited the owners of 111 Cakery to reconsider their actions toward those they disagree with and to see their work as an expression of love for all of their neighbors, not an endorsement of each activity for which they bake. I think if they are truly open to their faith, they will find much to like in Ms. Evans’ thoughts.