With the incredibly rapid advancement of marriage equality with three new states this month, a new battleground is emerging in the wedding industry with prominent skirmishes revealing clashes that are likely to grow in number as the weighty topics of equality, discrimination and religious freedom collide amidst the tulle and tulips of the world of weddings.
A second bakery just refused to bake a wedding cake for two lesbians in Oregon, a Fort Worth Texas venue refused to host a reception to celebrate the wedding of two men, a Wedding magazine refused to accept a wedding photographer’s ad that featured a lesbian couple, and a recent story of a flower shop that refused to provide wedding flowers for two long-time gay customers for their nuptials. Stories like these are likely to increase in frequency rather than decline as marriage equality continues to win in legal and legislative forums.
It provides a new kind of conflict worthy of discussion. I understand that it should be simple because refusing services based on sexuality is discrimination. The resolution of many of these conflicts will be determined by the desire of the offended party to seek punitive redress through anti-discrimination statutes. Not all anti-discrimination statutes are crafted alike; some states, like Oregon, have sexuality clearly included related to commerce and services, while some do not.
The opposing stance relies on the idea that if an individual creates a business they should have the right to run it the way they choose and not be asked to violate their first amendment right to exercise their religion while operating their business because of the request of a customer.
Let’s not pretend that the lines between freedom of religion, freedom of association, business and discrimination are evenly or even consistently drawn. This scenario is not as life-and-death as doctors and hospitals refusing to provide abortions in situations where the mother’s life is in danger, but the impact of how these kinds of conflicts are resolved deserves some level-headed discussion.
The wedding industry is somewhat unique because so many fields come together to create a wedding. They may be specifically focused on weddings where this will be a significant issue, or providing for weddings may only be a part of a business. As a result, marriage equality is having an impact on everything from florists and printers to bakers and caterers.
The simple correlation is to say that enforcing anti-discrimination laws is important with the throwback example of an independent restaurant owner refusing service to black people. Obviously common knowledge understands that this is illegal, and anti-discrimination legislation (and basic human decency) ensures it does not happen. Refusing to provide a cake or flowers to a gay couple for the wedding is the same under many laws. Even if the legal status is quite clear, it is creating a murkier social discussion placing one party’s civil liberties and another party’s desire to operate their business in accordance with their religious beliefs at opposite ends of a fight that is going to grow more heated.
Marriage equality is about civil recognition under the law of the land. For many, and the grounds for the continued strong opposition, marriage is a religious institution and the ceremony surrounding it a reflection of that religious institution. After all, for the civil recognition, a trip to city hall for the license and a few minutes with a justice of the peace takes care of all of the legal benefits granted to marriage. This new battleground is about the ceremony and its accoutrements. It’s about the social impact of the civil recognition.
To understand these conscientious objections (and ignoring for the moment the basic hole in the argument presented by the extreme probability that none of these religious objectors ask their customers or clients if they have been divorced, or committed adultery, or co-habitated before the wedding, or engaged in pre-marital sex and deny services based on those violations of the religious doctrine associated with marriage), I’ve attempted to consider a scenario where I might feel similarly.
Let’s say I run a catering company. I would absolutely refuse to cater any kind of sportsball event. I don’t like them. It’s my business and I do what I want with it. This scenario is not likely to ruffle any feathers, even though it would be a consistent and permanent form of discrimination on my part. Fortunately, hating sporstball doesn’t run me afoul (Foul! Sportsball reference!) of anti-discrimination laws.
Let’s now consider one based on my own moral principles. If the KKK wanted me to cater an event, I would absolutely refuse my services with any excuse I could come up with. I’m booked, I’m busy, my truck caught on fire, all my employees have ebola, I hate everything you stand for – something along those lines. Now the KKK doesn’t really fall under anti-discrimination statutes either, but it helps me wrap my mind around the supposed moral ground for refusing to allow one’s business to provide services to activities one sees as immoral.
The obvious solution for religious objectors to avoid anti-discrimination charges while still refusing to provide their services would be to offer a less inflammatory excuse along these lines. (Okay, maybe the ebola one is a little far-fetched.) However, many of these individuals seem intent on explaining the “why” behind their refusal, so they put their bigotry on full display and place it behind the wall of their religious freedom.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, whether you are a bigot for your own worldview or because the tenets of your religion require you to be so – you are still a bigot. “It’s what I believe” leads to the same conclusion either way. Stop using other words to say “I’m a bigot” so proudly.
This issue is going to continue to generate press and conflict, and I think the most important element will be how the conversation is handled. On both sides. Any of the links I listed above show extremist responses in the comments sections from each end of the opinion spectrum, religious extremists proclaiming the right of the business owner to not be involved with the work of the devil and extremist gay supporters suggesting or advocating harm to the business owner or property. Neither of these responses is acceptable.
Marriage and weddings are extremely emotional events already, and these examples demonstrate that we are likely in for a long journey between even a permanent national legal victory and truly commonplace acceptance across the board. Let’s remember that sharing experiences of discrimination is a great way to recommend or discourage the patronage of a particular business, and doing so is the greatest way to show the economic impact bigoted beliefs will have.
At the same time, let’s also remember that it is the legal recognition that truly matters and is worth complete attention and our time and energy. Suing Betty’s Flower Phantasmagoria because they won’t provide the perfect arrangements for the big show that accompanies the civil rights? There might be a better use of all of our time. So absolutely, tell your friends and the public about your experience – on Facebook, on Yelp, even as a tip on Foursquare. Announce this business is anti-LGBT and allow other customers to decide whether to give them business or not. I don’t want to get married in a church that doesn’t support my marriage, and I don’t want flowers, a cake, my Gucci tuxedo or the show pony I plan to ride into the reception from a company that doesn’t support the celebration of my big day either, so I’ll take my business elsewhere.
Besides, when the myriad businesses that support the wedding-industrial complex truly grasp the absolutely insane amount of money that homosexuals will be willing to spend in order to create the most perfect ceremony and the reception that people will be talking about for years to come – the economic punishment to the profits of bigots will be the ultimate victory.