Claim 1: “Forcing me to serve gays violates my religious liberty.”
My response: I’m not aware of a religion that commands, “Thou must not serve sinners.” It’s certainly not a part of Christianity. If it were, then no one could be served. If you want to discriminate against gay people, but not against other groups of people who are sinners according to your religion, then you are morally and religiously inconsistent. You might be able to claim that your religion condemns homosexuality, but your inconsistent behavior reveals that something other than your god or holy book is guiding you.
Claim 2: “I should have the right to serve or not serve whomever I please for whatever reason.”
My response: This is certainly a more consistent position. By claiming that one should be able to discriminate for any reason, he avoids accusations of demanding special rights of which only the religious can take advantage. By claiming that one should be able to discriminate against anyone, he avoids specific accusations of racism, sexism, etc.
However, it ignores a significant problem: if a vast majority of people in the country come to believe that gay people, for example, don’t deserve service, then gay people will find themselves unable to meet their needs or desires. (Alternatively, gay people living in a small town, where important services are run by Christians, might be similarly out of luck.) The few businesses willing to serve gay people might also face backlash for doing so, leading them to adopt the same position out of self-interest. We can’t simply say that gay people in such a situation ought to establish their own businesses; after all, they need customers and supplies from people who likely hate them. Given all that we say about freedom, equality, and happiness in our country, it also doesn’t seem right to tell them to just find another place to live.
Unfortunately, anti-discrimination laws aren’t perfect, either. Minorities who face discrimination generally have to wait until a large portion of the public sympathizes with them, which also means that groups who get no sympathy (either because they are too obscure or because the public just doesn’t care) get nothing. These patches, decades apart, can never protect everyone who deserves the opportunity to get a job, find housing, eat, or anything else necessary to a life–or, to be daring: a good life.
We also can’t pass one simple bill that declares, “No one shall be turned away from a place of business or denied employment on the basis of some characteristic that has no impact on that business’ operations or the employee’s quality of work.” Defining “impact on a business’ operations or the employee’s quality of work” would be contentious in itself, but most of us also don’t want it. Even many of the most open-minded among us don’t want to be forced to serve or hire people who are openly hateful toward members of other races or religions, even though those qualities might not affect business operations or work quality. I certainly wouldn’t want to be forced to cater a fundamentalist Christian event where guests go on about how vile atheists are.
In short, there is no perfect solution.
Claim 3: “There is a difference between serving someone and participating in his events. Businesses should be forced to serve gays, but not cater their weddings.”
My response: I understand the sentiment here. The two actions feel different according to the degree of involvement or exposure to the “sin.” The trouble here is that both are cases of exchanging money for services and defining activities according to degrees of involvement is likely an exercise in futility. Selling a wedding cake to a gay couple and catering the couple’s wedding might seem far apart, but where does driving the couple to or taking pictures at the wedding fall? This “moderate” position might be well-intentioned, but I’m not convinced that it works.
Claim 4: “Homosexuality isn’t like race or sex or nationality. It’s a choice.”
My response: Even if that were true, it is irrelevant to the debate. Religion is clearly even more of a choice, but we don’t seem to be trying very hard to allow people to discriminate on that basis.
Claim 5: “This is about religious liberty.”
My response: No, it’s about liberty. Any law that entitles only religious people to discriminate according to their conscience is clearly unfair. If a Christian can turn away gays, especially if he can do so without having to be consistent with the rest of his religion or prove that his convictions are sincere, then anyone should be able to turn away anyone. This means that an atheist can turn away a Christian, too.
Claim 6: “We have a right to live according to our faith or conscience.”
My response: This is totally naïve, anarchic, and historically ignorant. I imagine that we all disagree with at least one thing that our government does, but that does not mean that we can stop paying the taxes that support that behavior. I imagine that we can all find at least one law that troubles us morally, but that does not mean that we can ignore it as we see fit. This has always been the case in the United States as well as most of the rest of the world through most of civilized history, as it should be. Our right to live as we see fit only goes so far–and the debate over discrimination touches on precisely this issue. What we ultimately determine is appropriate–even if we determine that it is OK for businesses to refuse to serve gays or cater their weddings–should not be based on self-defeating, nonsensical, absolutist, feel-good proclamations of religious liberty.