In the struggle for equality for LGBT Americans, it’s two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes it comes down to pizza, and every slice matters.
Gay marriage is now the law in 37 states and the District of Columbia. Nearly 72 percent of the U.S. population lives in a state currently issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples statewide. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case later this month that could require marriage equality nationwide. And it should, if the Constitution’s requirement of “equal protection of the laws” actually means equal protection of the laws. It really is that simple.
But opponents of equality have always dug in their heels, taking a stand for bigotry. Public pools all over the Deep South ordered to racially integrate closed entirely in the 1970s rather than allow African American kids to swim. All-male golf clubs still insist they have the right to exclude women because they are private and they just want to, so there.
Indiana, reacting to a court decision requiring it to recognize same sex marriages, has enacted a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which allows businesses to discriminate, using religion as a defense. Nineteen other states have RFRAs, but they apply only to disputes between individuals and the government.
While Indiana’s RFRA does not explicitly mention LGBT discrimination, its backers clearly stated that it is designed to protect “Christian businesses and churches from those supporting homosexual marriages.” In other words, the law is meant to allow them to refuse service to same sex couples. One pizzeria promptly announced it would not serve gay weddings. While pizza weddings are apparently a thing, I found no evidence of a gay pizza wedding anytime or anywhere. Which proves to me that only gay folks should be allowed to have weddings. But I digress.
Here’s why these religious freedom laws are a terrible idea.
1. Religious freedom is not a problem in America. But LGBT discrimination is.
Christians remain the majority in America, free to worship as they like.
LGBT Americans, on the other hand, endure disturbing levels of bias and violence. One in five gay employees and nearly half of transgender employees report having been discriminated against in hiring, promotions and pay. Gay people are 2.4 times more likely to suffer a violent hate crime attack than Jews, 2.6 times more likely to be attacked than blacks, and 4.4 times more likely than Muslims.
Our gay friends need legal protection, without exceptions for religion or anything else. As James Madison said, “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship.”
2. Religious freedom laws are bad for business.
When Arkansas announced this week that it too would introduce its very own RFRA, even Walmart, not your typical liberal poster child, opposed it on the grounds that it “threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state.”
Leaders of tech companies like Apple and Yelp have spoken out against RFRAs. Indiana has already lost expanded Angie’s List facilities, entertainers (tour dates cancelled) and a gaming convention. Governors of Connecticut, New York and Washington have imposed bans on state-funded travel to Indiana.
And oh, that anti-gay pizzeria? It was mocked hilariously on social media — a raunchy faux website was created: “call us to cater your gay wedding!” — and deluged with critical phone calls. As of this writing, Memories Pizza was shut down; left only, perhaps, with memories.
Because it’s not just about that veggie slice, any more than 1950’s lunch counter sit-ins were about getting a Woolworth’s milkshake. It’s about being able to live in America and do every normal thing everyone else gets to do – go to school, walk down the street, get married, get a job, go to dinner, shop – without being demeaned by extremists.
LGBT equality has become a mainstream, core American value. Oppose it in 21st century America and you lose significant business from a customer base that will shun you. As well they should.
3. Religious freedom laws are bad for politicians.
Indiana Governor Mike Pence has had to pretend all week, during the national uproar, that RFRA was about “empowerment,” not discrimination. He dodged questions on national television about whether LGBT discrimination is legal in his state. He must have gotten dizzy from all the bobbing and weaving.
No one believes him. In fact the law was enacted to protect “Christian bakers, florists and photographers” who refuse service to “homosexual marriages.”
Governor Pence’s presidential dreams appear to be dashed, and he’s become the butt of jokes. David Letterman said he looked like “the guy fishing in a Cialis commercial.”
And that’s only the beginning. Anti-gay politicians, take note. Clever Indiana entrepreneurs have set up the First Church of Cannabis to take advantage of the new law. Its founder said it will grow hemp, and “if someone is smoking in our church, God bless them.” The RFRA will make it difficult for the state to deny Church of Cannabis adherents the right to their sacrament, showing again how preposterous the law is.
To those First Church of Cannabis worshippers: After taking that sacrament, and getting the munchies, choose carefully where you order your pizza.