April 19, 2016

The Gay Wedding Cake Scenario

Gay wedding a by Stefano BologniniDo you remember the "ticking time-bomb" scenario that Republicans used during the brief debate over torture we had in the U.S. before deciding that it was a perfectly acceptable part of our legacy and that those who ordered it should face no legal consequences whatsoever? Of course you do! Terrorists had a bomb in the U.S., and torture was the only way to get them to tell us where it was. We were supposed to overlook all the evidence showing that torture rarely produces reliable information or that it is against international law. We were told repeatedly that it should not be taken "off the table" as an option. In fact, we were encouraged to see it as a perfectly viable option in far less extreme scenarios.

Today, there is a different sort of ticking time-bomb scenario, one that many evangelical fundamentalist Christians see as inevitable unless drastic measures are taken now to prevent it. This one is fairly different and does not involve bombs of any sort; however, it is often discussed as if it represents an almost equivalent threat to what these Christians refer to as their way of life. It is the "gay wedding cake" scenario, and many evangelical fundamentalist Christians appear to find it absolutely terrifying.

So what is the gay wedding cake scenario? Read the rest of this paragraph in your best Rod Serling voice...Imagine a small family-owned bakery located somewhere in the rural U.S. The family that owns and runs this bakery are, not surprisingly, evangelical fundamentalist Christians. One day, some new customers arrive at the bakery to request a wedding cake. Wedding cakes are expensive, and this is an excellent opportunity for the business to make some money. There's just one little problem: the couple wanting this particular cake is gay. [Gasp!]

The fear - and it is a fear about which we have been hearing a great deal lately - is that the U.S. government will eventually require the bakery owners to provide a wedding cake to the gay couple even though treating gay people as equals violates their deeply held religious beliefs. How would the government do this? They'd do it through anti-discrimination laws. Just as a business would find itself in a world of hurt if it denied service to a customer based on the customer's race, a similar outcome would apply here.

The solution, as far as a great many evangelical fundamentalist Christians are concerned, is to pass laws at the state level permitting anti-LGBT discrimination as long as it is the result of deeply held religious beliefs. This is precisely what they are doing in Mississippi, North Carolina, and many other states with significant numbers of evangelical fundamentalist Christians. They refer to these efforts as attempts to protect "religious freedom," and they are right to do so in at least one sense. These efforts are indeed about protecting the freedom of the religious to discriminate against persons they regard as "sinful" or inferior.

There are many valid criticisms of these efforts. Some note that these laws are clearly being written with Christians in mind and that this means they may violate the Establishment Clause by creating explicit legal benefits for bigoted Christians that do not appear to apply to anyone else. Others focus on the fact that this is fundamentally about bigotry. Dressing anti-LGBT bigotry in religious belief does not make it any more palatable. It is still bigotry. Evangelical fundamentalist Christians used to make similar arguments regarding interracial marriage, segregation, and even slavery. They argued that their views were based on their deeply held religious beliefs, and these arguments were eventually seen for what they were. Slavery and legally-mandated segregation were abolished, and Christian business owners are not permitted to discriminate against interracial couples.

Still others take a pragmatic route by pointing out that passing state laws will not stop the federal government from extending anti-discrimination protections or protect those who violate federal laws any more than they did around segregation or the recent legalization of same-sex marriage. In fact, these laws are likely to place states in jeopardy when it comes to the federal funding on which they count. And so, these efforts appear to be little more than the thinly-veiled attempts by unscrupulous politicians to pander to evangelical fundamentalist Christian voters.

Having said that, it is important to acknowledge that the evangelical fundamentalist Christians do have a point. The family that owns our hypothetical bakery probably will lose the right to refuse service to a gay couple simply because they are gay. It may take some time, but the law will almost certainly change in such a way that a business owner is not able to legally discriminate against customers on the basis of their sexual orientation. Thus, the fear of this happening is probably not an unrealistic one. And so, the evangelical fundamentalist Christian who is losing sleep over this today is probably not too dissimilar to his or her ancestor who once lost sleep over the possibility that his or her business would no longer be able to refuse to serve people based on their race.

The writing is on the wall, folks. If your deeply held religious beliefs do not permit you to comply with the law in supporting yourself in a particular way, you have a couple of options. First, you can look for a new line of work. There are many careers out there that do not require someone to have anything to do with weddings, gay or strait. Perhaps training for one now would be a smart move. Second, you could begin the process of critically evaluating your religious beliefs. Perhaps a belief system that prohibits one from interacting with one's fellow humans in an appropriate manner is not worth maintaining.
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