Photo from Flickr.
By Catherine Bonke
This past week, Indiana and twenty other states passed the Religious Freedom Act, a law meant to protect religious rights. However, some have feared that it may allow business owners to discriminate against LGBTQ* individuals.
Most of the heat has come from businesses in the wedding industries who refuse to service same sex couples because gay marriage is against their religious beliefs. The law in Indiana has recently been revised to include language that specifically states that the law does not allow anyone to discriminate against anyone based on their sexual identity or orientation.
Yet the law is still garnering an uproar from all sides as some of the fundamental rights guaranteed in the constitution have been called into question and placed side by side in a back and forth about which one is more pressing.
Allow me for a moment to take you back 50 years. The Civil Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination based on race, religion or sex, was in practice for one year. But, the case of Loving vs. Virginia, the landmark Supreme Court case which dropped the ban on interracial marriage hadn’t occurred yet. So, florists, bakers and decorators could refuse service to interracial couples. The federal anti-miscegenation laws were repealed in 1967.
Does this sound a little familiar?
Now, I completely understand where religious rights fit into all of this. Most of the uproar has come from and is targeted at the Christian communities in these states, which don’t support same-sex marriage and therefore feel that they shouldn’t have to serve same-sex couples.
The First Amendment gives every American the freedom to practice whatever religion they want and I think that for religious business owners, there is a lot of freedom to run your business in accordance with your religion, like closing the business to observe a day of rest or openly displaying religious symbols.
What these business owners do not have the right to do is deny service to people who walk into their open doors. The law currently states that business owners do not have the right to discriminate, but there is still concern about business leaders doing just that.
If you have made the decision to run a business in the United States, you have agreed to serve those who fairly desire to trade money for your service, as long as no one is breaking the law. By offering them your service in exchange for money, as you do all other customers, you are not affirming their sexuality but simply offering them an equal chance to your service. I don’t see completing a business transaction as a defining characteristic of life, like religion or sexuality.
The biggest issue I have found with this law has been the finding a balance. I don’t think that standing on the side of the LGBTQ* community means that you can’t be for religious freedom. And vice versa. At least, that’s not the case for me.
This situation seems to demand you to take one side or the other, but I don’t think it’s that easy.
Now the real question is whether the governors of these states have a responsibility to uphold the Constitution, which states that “all men are created equal,” a common refrain for anti-discrimination movements, or whether they have a responsibility to the voters who want this law and will vote for it.
It’s extremely difficult to stand at the crossroads of religious freedom and protection of the LGBTQ* community from potential discrimination.
We are all free to make choices about how we run our lives, but part of having the freedom to make your own choice is respecting the people who make choices that are different from yours.