Last week a bill went through the Arizona legislature (later vetoed by the governor) that received quite a bit of national criticism. The bill (SB1062, that’s a link to the actual bill text) was, depending on who you listened to either going to:
- Cause widespread, awful discrimination against gays
- [or] protect religious people from being forced to perform acts that violate their consciences
The impetus for the bill, according to some legislators and proponents, is to keep what happened to a photographer in New Mexico and a baker in Oregon from happening in Arizona. This is a knotty issue, to be sure, because discrimination is a difficult nut to crack. Here’s something a pro-gay marriage libertarian over at the Cato Institute wrote last week:
The prototypical scenario that SB 1062 is meant to prevent is the case of the New Mexico wedding photographer who was fined for declining to work a same-sex commitment ceremony. This photographer doesn’t refuse to provide services to gay clients, but felt that she couldn’t participate in the celebration of a gay wedding. There’s also the Oregon bakery that closed rather than having to provide wedding cakes for same-sex ceremonies. Why should these people be forced to engage in activity that violates their religious beliefs?
For that matter, gay photographers and bakers shouldn’t be forced to work religious celebrations, Jews shouldn’t be forced to work Nazi rallies, and environmentalists shouldn’t be forced to work job fairs in logging communities. This isn’t the Jim Crow South; there are plenty of wedding photographers – over 100 in Albuquerque – and bakeries who would be willing to do business regardless of sexual orientation, and no state is enforcing segregation laws. I bet plenty of Arizona businesses would and do see more customers if they advertised that they welcomed the LGBT community.
The big issue here, from a liberty standpoint, is where does it stop? Certainly I have a lot of sympathy for the two business owners who share my religious views, but I would be just as opposed to a gay photographer being forced to photograph a ceremony at Westboro Baptist Church. The bill in question was a minor amendment to the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) for Arizona, which many states and the federal government have passed. The federal law was signed by President Clinton. The words “refuse service” and “gay” did not appear in the bill, but that did not change the national media’s characterization of the bill.
Even many people who support allowing the word marriage to be applied to same-sex relationships understand that there are lines that should not be crossed for personal liberties. Sadly, there is another agenda at play here, and there are those who will suffer for conscience’s sake in a land that once protected religious freedom. Freedom protects many things that you or I may disagree with, and in some sense freedom even protects someone’s right to do something foolish or outright stupid.
An issue where strong Christians and true libertarians agree: No one should be compelled to serve against their personal convictions.