Religious Rights Versus LGBT Rights

So, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has had the good sense to veto legislated intended to provide legal cover for business owners to refuse to provide services to LGBT members based on the business owner’s “sincere religious beliefs.” But there are other states who are considering similar laws. To me, the news media are totally ignoring several things in their coverage of this issue: the historical antecedents, the cultural sea-change of LGBT acceptance in America and which businesses are really involved here.

Let’s start with the obvious fact of the accelerating legal recognition of same-sex marriage throughout the country. In many cases this is happening through legislation and in others through judicial action. In Arizona, the media went on an on about the chambers of commerce, major corporations associated with travel,  and other businesses who insisted the law must be vetoed. But the reality is, those businesses who opposed the law would only be indirectly affected if tourists avoided travel to Arizona as a result of the law. Passage of the law stemmed from a suit by a same-sex couple against a photographer who refused to film their commitment ceremony (not mentioned during news coverage). It is the whole host of wedding vendors whose services are at issue: photographers, florists, bakeries making wedding cakes, caterers, reception halls, etc. Most of these businesses are small and most will be intimately involved with their customers for an extended time. Ten years ago, the same-sex marriage was uncommon; 20 years ago almost unheard of.  But today, it is a commonplace service request in the wedding industry and growing by leaps and bounds.

The majority of Americans are now fine with same-sex marriage, but there are plenty of people with strongly held opposition, often in conjunction with fundamental religious conviction. To me, it is not such a clear-cut issue that those convictions should be put aside in favor of the rights of others to have services provided to them that are available to anyone else. While news coverage of the Arizona law painted this in a broad stroke, my guess is that the practical application of it would not have had the breadth and scope of public accommodation discrimination faced by African Americans decades ago. Instead it would have been deeply felt within the relationship of individuals being married and those providing wedding-related services to them.

I think it is a somewhat gray area of whose rights are most trampled. To me, the attitudes and beliefs of all parties concerned are more significant than their legal rights. Weddings are generally heartfelt, important occasions, to be looked back at fondly in memories. Participants endure, more often than enjoy, weeks and months of planning, meetings with the vendors, etc. At the ceremony and reception, the fond memories are created. Will meetings with reluctant vendor be more or less stressful? Will the reluctant vendor contribute to a happier or more joyful event? I doubt it.  In metropolitan areas, where there are generally an adequate number of vendors to supply the various services, it should not be a problem finding ones who are happy to take the money of same-sex couples and provide good service. Get out of the cities and into small towns and rural areas–including scenic locations for “destination weddings,” finding such vendors may not be as easy. Perhaps compelling a reluctant vendor to provide music, a cake, food, etc., should be a  legal right, but it enforcing it might not be a sensible thing to do.  While the laws are rapidly changing, enabling same-sex marriage, attitudes will take some time to catch up. Nonetheless, the legal system can’t wait for attitudes to change; if it did, when would African Americans have been able to eat, sleep, travel, etc. where they chose? The laws must precede the change; not try to hold it back.