Christian Businesses are not Bigoted
by Ian Huyett
Last year, the country began to have a conversation about whether it should be illegal for a Christian business not to participate in same-sex marriages.
Earlier this month, the tone of the debate changed. Suddenly, the debate seemed to be about whether businesses should be allowed to “refuse service to gay couples.” Not the marriages of those couples, but simply “gay couples.”
In the last few days, that tone became even more frantic. Having realized that they can get away with pretty much anything, the media began producing headlines about businesses “refusing service to gay people.”
Comedian George Carlin used to complain about our society’s “euphemism treadmill.” That treadmill is now running backwards, using exaggerated language to attack and disparage Christians.
Where are the discriminatory restaurants?
Recent debate has rarely sounded like it’s related to marriage at all. Instead, it’s revolved around a hypothetical scenario evocative of the Jim Crow South: one in which a gay couple is thrown out of a restaurant for being gay.
Since Christ freely associated with all sorts of people whose actions he didn’t personally endorse, kicking a gay couple out of your restaurant for being gay would be distinctly unChristlike. Fortunately, I don’t see any Christian restaurant owners actually doing this.
Notably, there have been some recent instances of gay couples alleging discrimination by restaurants. Yet it’s not clear in these cases that the partners were turned away for being of the same sex. The fact that a gay couple was told to leave a restaurant for kissing, for example, is not automatic evidence of discrimination. It is possible the restaurant asks both straight and gay couples to refrain from kissing.
Additionally, a recurring theme in these cases is that the restaurants have issued profuse apologies, even asking the couples to return, after the allegations came to light. This suggests that it would not be economically viable for a restaurant to discriminate against gay couples.
The notion of a Christian restaurant categorically discriminating against gay people strains credulity even further. How would a restaurant do this? Would it ask all customers to state their sexuality? Would it put up a “No Gays Allowed” sign? I know a great many conservative Christians, but not one that would be caught dead in this Phelps-esque restaurant. It would be economically doomed.
Forcing people to attend ceremonies
This debate has become about abstractions rather than real people. Elaine Huguenin, whose case largely inspired both Kansas and Arizona’s religious freedom bills, is a real person.
Elaine Huguenin did not throw anyone out of a restaurant for being gay: she doesn’t own a restaurant. Rather, Huguenin is a Christian wedding photographer who passively declined to play an active role in a ceremony that she disagreed with. A polite woman who was minding her own business and harming no one, Huguenin was bludgeoned with the law and ordered to shell out thousands of dollars.
Practically speaking, the controversy has not been about whether gay couples can be barred from restaurants, but whether photographers like Huguenin should be forcibly conscripted by the government and made to attend religious ceremonies against their will.
Unfortunately, rather than talk about Huguenin’s case, many libertarians have responded to recent legislative efforts by simply maintaining that anyone should be able to discriminate for any reason.
While broad debates about private property are well and good, that is not what was in dispute. The Kansas religious freedom bill would only have been applicable in situations “related to, or related to the celebration of, a marriage…,” and Arizona’s bill was intended to protect religious freedom – not categorical discrimination against gay people.
Why does this issue even matter to Christians?
A common argument against declining to participate in same-sex weddings is that it places an arbitrary emphasis on homosexuality. The argument holds that Christian photographers and bakers are hypocrites unless they also decline to help wed couples who’ve engaged in premarital sex and other Biblical sins. After all, Christians believe that all men are naturally sinful: if a Christian business wanted to refuse service to sinners, it would have to refuse service to all human beings.
Yet this argument misses the point. It assumes that the reservations of Huguenin and other Christian business are about sin rather than marriage. This is not the case. According to National Review, “neither the baker nor the photographer [Huguenin] categorically refuses services to homosexuals; birthday cakes and portrait photography were both on the menu. The business owners specifically objected to participating in a civic/religious ceremony that violated their own consciences.”
I used to believe that statements like “I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman” could not possibly be expressions of anything other than coded homophobia and a contemptuous desire to exclude gay people. Then I actually read the New Testament.
Christians believe in the primacy of the New Covenant. Christ said “No one comes to the Father except through me.” This means that, outside the context of Christ, the Old Testament does not bring us to God.
Because Christ has fulfilled Levitical Law, Christians are not regulated by it. This is why Christians can eat shellfish, and why even Rick Santorum doesn’t call for stoning anyone.
As liberals correctly point out, there’s not a whole lot written in the New Testament about the sinfulness of homosexuality. There is a great deal, however, about the complementary nature of the two sexes. To a Christian, a marriage ceremony is a representation of the very important union between the two. Asking a Christian to actively participate in a same-sex wedding is simply the equivalent of inviting a follower of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, or any other faith to participate in an altered version of a ritual central to their religion.
Granted, some Hindus and Zoroastrians might like to participate in the altered ritual. But what would you say about someone who wished to force them to do so against their will?
You would probably call them a spiteful totalitarian who maliciously delights in imposing themselves on others. And you would be correct.
Why pass religious freedom laws?
In a recent Reason column, J.D. Tuccille writes “Arizona lawmakers are basically just being homophobic pricks. They’re playing off of incidents in other states … Those other states’ laws don’t apply in Arizona, so this is grandstanding.”
Suppose that, instead of bullying a Christian photographer, New Mexico had passed a law criminalizing a new drug. Imagine that legislators in Arizona – an adjacent state – responded with a resolution clarifying that that people are welcome to buy and sell this drug in Arizona. Do you think that Tuccille, who presumably self-identifies as a libertarian, would have condemned the resolution as superfluous?
Tuccille’s assumption about legislators’ motives makes his argument even more nonsensical. The notion that libertarians who oppose drug laws must wish to use drugs themselves is a typical and juvenile objection to libertarianism. In the aforementioned hypothetical, do you imagine we’d see a column from Reason calling Arizona’s legislators a bunch of drug addicts?
A warning to social conservatives
Conservative Bill McMorris responded to Tuccille’s column with a piece titled “Conservatives Will Embrace Libertarians When Libertarians Stop Embracing Government.” McMorris takes Tuccille’s comments and projects them onto the liberty movement at large, writing that libertarians “are willing to accept more regulation, taxation, and government intrusion, in order to stick it to social conservatism.”
Yet Tuccille’s position is a minority view in the liberty movement. Both Pauls, after all, are Christians. F.A. Hayek once said that individualism “is based on the respect of Christianity for the individual man.”
In fact, had McMorris looked at Reason’s Facebook page, he’d have seen that libertarian commenters overwhelmingly rejected Tuccille’s dismissal of religious liberty.
To support his hypothesis, McMorris points to the Virginia gubernatorial election. In Virginia, he says, libertarians cost a small government Republican a victory by voting for an ironically big government Libertarian Party candidate. Robert Sarvis certainly did have some unnervingly un-libertarian positions: that’s likely why he actually took more votes from Democrats than from Republicans.
Libertarians will police their own in the interests of coalition-building – but exaggeration and exacerbation is unhelpful on either side. Cases like Huguenin’s are proof that, now more than ever, it’s in the interests of conservatives to get the government out of these issues entirely.