This past Thursday, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins interviewed Fox News Channel Host/Parasite – I forget which – Todd Starnes (both men can best be remembered by forgetting they exist as soon as you finish reading this post) about a recent federal appeals court ruling that said a Colorado baker violated a couple’s rights when he refused to bake them a wedding cake just because they were both men. Here is my own (generously abridged) transcript of an exchange between Perkins and Starnes courtesy of the good folks at Right Wing Watch:
STARNES: It was really chilling to hear you read what they, what the government wants this Christian business owner to do. And when you read the ruling – I’ve had a chance to read the 60-some-odd pages of the Court of Appeals ruling, which is affirming the lower court’s decision – it’s not much of a legal stretch to imagine the day when they will tell pastors the same thing, “You will participate in these gay weddings.” So it’s a troubling thing when you look at this document and you realize that Christian business owners, at least in Colorado, really don’t have as much freedom as they thought they did.
PERKINS: Yeah, and that’s one of the points I’ve tried to make with pastors, you know, I know pastors have been concerned that, you know, any day now they will be forced to do same sex weddings and I say, look, look, look, it probably will come but not immediately. What’s more immediate are the people sitting in your pews, the bakers, the photographers, you know, the florists, we’ve seen those already. But it’s coming, you know even further, it’s coming to the fire chiefs, like Kelvin Cochran, who’ve you written about in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s the regular business people, the public servants. It’s Judge McConnell in Ohio, a city court judge, who did not want to do, perform, actually have to perform, and there was, I don’t know if you saw this, Todd, but there was a ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court Ethics Board that said he was required, as a judge, to perform same sex weddings.
Where to begin? Let’s start with the apparently malleable term “Christian business owner.” What is that, exactly? Is it the owner of a business specializing in Christian merchandise? Or is it the owner of a business who happens to be a Christian? If it’s the former, then an argument could be made that Christianity plays a part in how this business owner runs his business. And one might (if one wanted to try hard enough) be able to make an argument that he should be able to run his business according to Christian principles. Otherwise the latter applies and Religion has absolutely nothing to do with how you run your business if your business is one that’s open to the general public. If your business is one that’s open to the general public, then it has to be open to ALL of the general public. If you wish to start a private service to your friends and other like-minded bigots and operate on a membership-only basis, you can do that. You just can’t pretend your business is open to the general public. And since we’re not talking about business owners who specialize in selling Christian things, the word “Christian” when attached to the words “business owner” means nothing. Starnes says it twice, but in neither case does it bolster his argument because he’s primarily trying to apply it to the owners of a general business. And operating a business in the United States has nothing to do with Religion. You are free to practice Christianity. And you are free to operate a business. But you are not free to operate a business according to any Christian principles if those principles infringe on anyone’s Constitutional rights. To do so would be to force others to practice your Religion, and you are never free to do that.
Starnes, who to my knowledge has as much legal training as I (zero), then goes on to say one of the most ignorant things one could say about this subject, “…it’s not much of a legal stretch to imagine the day when they will tell pastors the same thing, ‘You will participate in these gay weddings.'” Actually, Todd, it is just that – a legal stretch, and a huge one at that. Here’s why. In the United States of America, Marriage is considered a civil institution, not a religious one. (By contrast, in Israel, marriage is considered a Religious institution, and certain people can be denied the right to marry in Israel. It doesn’t mean legal marriages performed outside Israel won’t be recognized, it just means Rabbis in Israel do not have to perform same sex weddings.) If anything, we accommodate Religion by saying if your wedding ceremony is a religious one, performed by someone recognized by the state as being a member of the Clergy sanctioned to perform marriages recognized by your Religion (a priest, not an altar boy), then the State will also recognize that marriage and you won’t have to have a separate wedding for civil purposes. So all religious marriages are recognized as civil ones, too. But not all civil marriages are, nor should they be, recognized by any religious entity. My wife and I were married in a restaurant by a Justice of the Peace. There was no God mentioned or involved. And yet our marriage is considered 100% legal by the State of New York and, by extension, all the other states. Nobody could rationally dispute that our marriage is valid. And since a civil marriage is possible for all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), no clergy or church will ever be forced to perform a same sex wedding. In fact, in every state that legislatively passed some kind of Marriage Equality Act (including my own state of New York), there has always been an exemption for churches or clergy members who do not wish to perform same sex weddings because their religion forbids them. And to my knowledge, no church has ever been successfully sued for refusing to perform one. And nobody is saying they should. If your Religion refuses to live in the 21st Century, that’s your Religion’s problem.
Lastly, Todd, the fact is that nobody has as much individual freedom as you think, as least as far as forcing others to practice your personal religion goes. But what we all have, including you, is the freedom to refuse to practice someone else’s religion. Some religions believe you should always keep your head covered in deference to God. Should you be forced to follow that practice if you’re not a follower of any of those religions? Of course not. And saying that two people of the same gender should not be allowed to marry because YOUR religion forbids it would be the same thing as forcing them to practice YOUR religion instead of theirs. You also don’t have the freedom to punch Liberals in the face, despite the fact that many Conservatives have publicly expressed a wish to do so. So you’re not free to do anything you want. There are limits, and those limits generally apply to the point where they affect others.
Now for where Perkins gets things wrong. First and foremost, the day will never come when pastors are forced to perform same sex weddings against their will as pastors. If they’re also public servants that’s different and we’ll get to that shortly. As I said before, I know of no states where pastors and clergy are forced by law or the courts to perform weddings for two people of the same gender, and I seriously doubt this will ever be an issue.
For those who understandably forgot, Kelvin Cochran was the former Fire Chief of Atlanta who self-published a book about his religious beliefs that said some negative and ignorant things about LGBT people (while still Fire Chief.) He also distributed this book on city property, and for that he was suspended. What Conservatives coming to his defense fail to notice is that as the Fire Chief, he’s in a position to influence the careers of any firefighter serving under him, including those who happen to be gay. How then could a gay firefighter in Atlanta ever feel he or she has an equal chance at promotion or advancement knowing the person in charge thinks they’re ruining society just by being gay? There’s no evidence that he ever did, but how can you ever feel your job is safe knowing what the boss thinks of you?
But Perkins didn’t stop there. He tried to draw an equivalence between being a private citizen business owner and being a public servant. Toledo Municipal Judge C. Allen McConnell refused to perform a wedding for a lesbian couple citing his deeply held religious beliefs. (After a 45-minute delay, the couple were married by another judge.) Judge McConnell asked the Ethics Board to give him guidance and they did. They said he couldn’t refuse. And they were right. What Conservative Christians (an oxymoron, as the message that Jesus Christ gave was overwhelmingly Liberal, so how can any good practicing Christian adhere to Conservative beliefs?) fail to grasp is that your right to practice your religion is just that – YOUR right to practice YOUR religion. It is NOT, however, YOUR right to impose YOUR religion on anyone else. But more importantly, and often overlooked in the discussion, is that discrimination against gay people (and only gay people) has nothing to do with one’s religious beliefs. Would the Colorado baker refuse to bake a cake for a woman who happened to be menstruating? Would he refuse to serve a divorced woman? Would he refuse to serve a customer he knows eats shellfish? These are all things the same chapter of the Bible (Lev 18) says are worthy of banishment, so if he’s willing to serve all of them, then his objections to serving a gay couple have nothing to do with his religion. And despite what illogical Conservatives like Justice Scalia think, that does matter because it means the claim that he runs his business according to Christian principles is a lie, which means the legal argument he presented to the Supreme Court was perjury. If I said I refuse to serve Conservatives because my religion teaches me they have sex with elephants, do I really have a constitutional leg to stand on? Of course not, because such a belief is clearly not based on my religious beliefs. And neither was the baker’s.
This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss religious freedom, illogical conservatives, gay leaders of the community like Todd Starnes, Tony Perkins, or Justice Antonin Scalia, or anything else you wish.