The flap-of-the-week is about religious rights versus gay rights. Of course, it is a phony dichotomy. There is no valid conflict. It is being made up as another attempt to reduce our visibility and make life more difficult for us now that some aspects of gay life are easing up. In the USA certain businesses provide services for weddings. They include photographers, caterers of food, shops printing invitations, and the like. Some of them have turned down gay weddings “on religious grounds”. What they say is that religions oppose gay marriages and the gay “lifestyle” and so they do not want to be supportive of anything that is wrong, sinful, or evil…as are gay couples. They would rather not have the business income than have anything to do with us. That is not an entirely religious decision on their part. It is homophobia.
Subsequently, a new fear has materialized, the fear of legal actions against those who refuse to provide services for gay weddings or other aspects of life for gay couples, solely and explicitly because of the gender of the persons seeking the services. A bakery recently made Facebook and news headlines by deciding to close their business rather than be required to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian wedding.
Some people cannot seem to understand what the issue is about. Why can’t a bakery decide not to sell its products to some people? Why can’t a pastor decide not to conduct a wedding for certain couples? Will the law step in and demand they do what they do not want to do?
This is where the issue becomes clearer.
Pastors, rabbis, priests and imams cannot be required to provide religious blessings for those who are not adherents and who do not meet the religion’s requirements. The religious body must be clear about what those requirements are, but once that is set forth those who do not meet the requirements can be excluded.
Bakers and photographers, as well as all others who propose to undertake commercial enterprises, however, are not providing religious services. They are providing cakes and pictures. They cannot decide to refuse to sell a cake to someone based on the color of their skin, their membership in an association, or their choice of a mate. The right to engage in a commercial enterprise is granted by the state (the body politic), which has the authority to decide such things as the legal age for buying liquor, but has not prevented selling cakes to people of any particular sexual orientation. If one wants to engage in business, one cannot discriminate between customers on the basis of one’s own phobias and prejudices.
One can, of course, decide to go out of business. But one is not a “victim” if one makes that decision.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.