Sunday, June 30, 2013

In which I find myself almost agreeing with Tony Perkins

I was watching Sunday Morning on CBS this morning, and I managed not to pay enough attention at the end to turn off the television when Face the Nation appeared onscreen.  I have nothing against the Sunday morning political talk shows, except that they are hosted by mostly brainless Washington insider would-be journalist types; feature mostly brainless, agenda-driven Washington insider politicians and professional opinionators (as opposed to me, an amateur opinionator); and are sponsored by malevolent large multinational corporations like ADM, Boeing, BP, and the like, who use their advertising time to tell us all how their next great screw job is so good for America.

(No, tell us how you really feel, Harrington.)

The genuinely evil Tony Perkins, head of the bizarrely named Family Research Council (not to be confused with the character actor Anthony Perkins, original portrayer of Norman Bates, who merely most famously played an evil character), was bloviating to professional Texan Bob Schieffer about how horrible for Americans it is that DOMA is dead and Ellen DeGeneres is alive.

And then it happened.

Perkins made a point that I almost agreed with. 

If I had already had my breakfast at that point I might have thrown up.  Perkins's point was that now that marriage equality is the law of (some parts of) the land, service providers like cake bakers, florists, and the like are finding themselves on the wrong end of some pretty tough anti-discrimination laws.  Essentially, these service providers find themselves facing a choice:  Do business with gay couples getting married and ignore your religious conviction against gay marriage, or face lawsuits and enforcement actions from those whom you won't serve or, worse, from the government acting on their behalf.

One of the arguments I have heard against legalization of gay marriage is that it might force churches to open their doors to recognition of such marriages even though they have a religious conviction against them.  I have always said that no one was arguing for that, and that churches would be free to tell gay couples to go pound sand if they expected a church to provide them with a minister, a chapel, or a reception hall.

(I still think that is and should be the case.  The First Amendment matters.)

This is kind of halfway to that concept, and it's kind of a gray area.

To his credit, Schieffer questioned Perkins pretty intently about what he was saying.  Whereas David Gregory will usually accept whatever pap his guests are spoon-feeding him, Schieffer does have some shred of journalistic tendencies left, and it was easy to see that his BS detector was flashing red.  But it turns out that Perkins does have most of his facts straight.  There have been lawsuits.  No one has gone to jail (and it's hard to imagine that being a serious possibility), but that's maybe a bit of a rhetorical flourish on Perkins's part.
But here is the problem with Perkins's point:  It really has nothing to do with the legalization of gay marriage per se.  It has to do with the application of anti-discrimination laws, coupled with an expected increase (due to legalization) in the kinds of activities that will bring those anti-discrimination laws into conflict with the religious sensibilities that Perkins wants to protect.

Religious freedom is an important part of what makes America work.  If I believed for one second that Tony Perkins cared about the religious freedom of all Americans, and not just those who meet his narrow definition of worthiness, I might give his views more consideration.  But there does seem to be something just a bit unfair about forcing a devoutly Catholic florist to sell flower arrangements to someone whose wedding she deems to be an abomination unto God--just to pick one example.

The reality is that Tony Perkins, culture warrior, is using the fact of increasing legalization of marriage equality as an excuse to push a broader "conscientious objector" status to a whole raft of laws he deems to conflict with proper Christianity.  The First Amendment gives you the right to be a religious nutbag.  That's fine; if you want to be that way, go ahead. 

But I'm pretty sure that this is not about protecting religious extremism.  Call me cynical, but I gotta ask:  Does the florist make inquiries about the purpose of every purchase?  Does she ask the man wearing a wedding ring and a business suit whether the flowers he's buying are for his wife or his mistress?  I doubt it.  And for that reason--that nobody is that genuinely conscientious when it comes to business--this really amounts to support for bigotry, masquerading as religious belief.  The florist merely finds it easier to identify the supposed sins of her gay potential customers, or maybe she finds the idea frightening that her work would be publicly associated with gays.  Maybe she doesn't want to endure the whispers of her follow congregants that she put her stamp of approval on something so icky.  But that's not conviction.  It's pride, or hate, or convenience. 

I don't doubt that Tony Perkins has a problem with anti-discrimination laws.  But I don't. We wouldn't allow it if a hotel owner refused to rent a room to a biracial couple because his particular flavor of Christianity interprets the Bible as prohibiting the mixing of races.  This is no different, substantively. 

When you enter the commercial world, and you run a business that is a public accommodation, you are expected to leave your own value judgments at the door.  If you can't handle that, then you should find another business or profession that does not involve dealing with the public.

More importantly, the legalization of gay marriage is not to blame in the first place.  Gay couples have been having weddings for a lot longer than gay marriage has been legal anywhere in the U.S.  If you are a fan of Seinfeld, you might recall the episode (appropriately titled "The Subway") in which Elaine was stuck on the subway while en route to a lesbian wedding.  That episode first aired on January 8, 1992--more than four years before DOMA was enacted.  I'm pretty sure that gay weddings in 1992 featured flowers and cakes, even if no marriage license was filed.

So I can breathe a sigh of relief.  I don't agree with Tony Perkins after all.  But these issues are going to come up, and we need to resolve them in a way that respects the rights of everyone involved.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting conflicting interests at play.

    I think part of the problem is that, as a society, we have a somewhat bipolar attitude toward business and commerce. We do expect them to leave their value judgments at the door...until doing so runs afoul of some other interest.

    Paula Deen has been a good business partner for many companies for many years, but companies were expected to make a value judgment to sever ties with her. (Deplorable speech, but the First Amendment does matter.) There is potential that continuing that relationship would have harmed their business, but the Amazon sales numbers for the past week show no indication of that yet.

    Likewise, numerous banks and payment processors (like Square) have refused to do business with companies manufacturing and selling guns, despite the legality of their business.

    Those both certainly seem to be moral value judgments.

    From a purely economic standpoint, it's possible that bakeries in many communities could be forced to choice between avoiding discrimination lawsuits and losing the business customers with more traditional views.

    Personally, I don't see a need to get too upset about business hypotheticals until there's evidence they're becoming realities. In that case, though, I'm not sure what a good resolution would be.