A pizzeria in Indiana was forced to close after its owner told the press that, in effect, they they would serve customers in their restaurant regardless of their religion or sexual orientation, but that if a gay couple wanted them to cater their wedding, they would refuse.
The owners were painted as evil practitioners of discrimination, cousins of Jim Crow. Yet, at first, their position seems reasonable.
I wrote in these pages, back in 2012, that gay couples should be able to use civil marriage to secure their legal rights with respect to each other. I was concerned, however, that the effect would be to redefine marriage into something other than what it has been for eons.
To me, refusing to participate in a wedding is not the same as refusing service to a customer. A wedding is a celebration of a new marriage, and if the participants in the celebration are not in the spirit of the event, even if they’re contractors, then it won’t be the best sendoff for the new couple. And it isn’t fair to the couple to have some of the participants there by force, especially when one could find another caterer, photographer, etc. who would be in the spirit of the event.
But then again:
- Doesn’t being a professional mean executing your work with skill and grace, even if you’re not in the spirit?
- How is telling a potential client ‘you can find another,’ or even, ‘I don’t really do these events, but here’s Mr. X, who will be able to serve you better than I can,’ different when addressing a gay couple as opposed to, say, a black couple?
The Indiana legislature passed a law last week affirming one’s right to one’s religious beliefs:
Sec. 8. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability. (b) A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
Sec. 9. A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding. If the relevant governmental entity is not a party to the proceeding, the governmental entity has an unconditional right to intervene in order to respond to the person’s invocation of this chapter.
I’ve read that five times and still can’t figure out what it’s practically useful for. It seems to say that the government cannot infringe on one’s exercise of religion, except when they feel they have to. And if one is sued, and uses as one’s defense that the law under which they are being sued infringes on their religion, they’ve invited the government to enter the case, presumably on the other side.
If I run a restaurant, and decide that I don’t want to cater gay weddings, this new law isn’t really helpful.
Nevertheless, the law unleashed a firestorm of opposition, even though there is a very similar Federal law on the books, so that this week, the Indiana legislature passed an update, explicitly declaring that ‘providers’ (i.e. any person or establishment other than an explicitly religious one) may not discriminate on the basis of ‘race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service,’ and may not use last week’s law (which otherwise remains in effect) as a defense.
I guess the message is: shut up and cater.