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.