Religious rights, gay rights, and professional sports in the legal spotlight


Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed SB1062 that would permit merchants to refuse service based on religious beliefs. Of course it was assumed it was generally aimed at businesses that have moral objections to serving gays, particularly in the context of wedding products and services. This has been an issue in the courts of other states previously, and because those cases haven’t turned up in Arizona yet, Brewer offered that as part of the reason why she was vetoing this bill.

Free market proponents seem to be split on this issue, some pointing out that businesses shouldn’t be forced by the state to do anything, while others suggest that this truly is discrimination against a class of people. The latter argument may not necessarily hold water, especially if it’s placed in the context of racial discrimination. While there are people out there that claim to have identified themselves as homosexual (or at the very least, not heterosexual) their entire lives, there are also many people that have swayed from one sexual preference to another. It is difficult to equate a social status that can fluctuate with race, which does not change.

No matter which way one looks at it though, this is a case of one liberty clashing with another. The tough question that Brewer theoretically faced was which one should win. She probably was spared that, thanks to some Arizona lawmakers telling her that they had changed their minds about supporting the bill in the first place.

These businesses supposedly made no secret of their religious beliefs, or the fact that their business dealings were infused with their faith. While it’s unlikely that anyone would ever be able to prove it, one has to wonder whether or not the gay couples that approached these businesses in an attempt to contract their services did so with full knowledge that the owners would probably refuse to enter any agreements with them. I’ve chosen my words carefully here, because they illustrate an important point in the situation. This is not about gays being refused service at a local diner. They are being met with refusals to enter contracts for services that are related to what the business owners consider a religious ceremony, regardless of whether or not the couples in question are planning anything beyond a civil ceremony.

Something else that hasn’t seemed to be considered by many is the nature of the businesses in general. It seems that no one has been asking what should be an important question: have these businesses refused service to anyone else for reasons other than the fact that the couples are having a same sex wedding? There are wedding photographers out there that will refuse to enter a contract with a couple for other reasons, whether it’s a service at a location that was difficult for the photographer to manage taking good photographs in the past, or even a general conflict with something as simple as the couple’s choice of theme. Bakeries might shy away from a contract over a theme as well, issues with a venue, or even a refusal to work with a particular flavor or ingredient a couple might want in a cake. The point is, contrary to what many – including the courts – might think, these businesses are not just about providing a service or product. There is a level of artistry involved. And bluntly, there is nothing stopping businesses of this kind from refusing to enter contracts for any reason other than the sexual preferences of the couples attempting to hire them. Again, I keep mentioning that this sort of work requires that the parties enter into a contract, as opposed to saying that they are engaging in a simple retail transaction. This is something that keeps getting lost in the shuffle, and shouldn’t be forgotten. There is a world of difference between hiring a boutique bakery to make a wedding cake, and making an order for the same at a local grocery store. Both leave the couple with the same result – a cake – but the grocery store just looks at it as yet another retail transaction.

But we should be focusing on dueling liberties, not the nuances of contract law. Because the businesses involved in the lawsuits are involved with providing services to people that are engaging in a religious activity, there shouldn’t be an argument over discrimination. The vetoed Arizona law is the end of this round, but it is entirely possible that this issue will come up again, to specifically protect businesspeople that are providing goods and services for people that are engaging in what the businesspeople consider to be a religious activity. While we’ve had many gray area arguments over religion in the public square, in this sort of case, the law is definitely meant to protect the ability of the people to observe their faith. As for the arguments that businesses are not individuals, there already was a ruling on that issue, with Citizens United. For the purpose of political activity, an organization can be considered a person. It’s difficult to see the high court reversing itself on that general issue for the sake of infringing on the religious rights of citizens.

Of course, these are all hypothetical legal musings. What’s far more interesting is the issue of the people bringing all of this into the spotlight in the first place. The issue is primarily over boutique businesses in the bridal industry. Theoretically, one’s wedding day is a momentous occasion, that one wants to go smoothly. People want to hire businesspeople that are dedicated to making that day perfect. Why in the world would anyone want to hire someone that had something against them? Honestly, there is literally a whole sector of reality television that is focused on nightmare problems of couples on their wedding days that are the result of less-than-dedicated wedding planners, caterers, bakers, musicians, photographers, etc. And those shows feature couples that actually fire people for not giving 110% to the task of making their day perfect. So, we’re meant to believe that there are gay couples out there that actually want poor service from people that don’t like them, on the principle of the matter? This is why I suggested that maybe these businesses had actually been targeted, as opposed to just inadvertently upsetting anyone. It’s truly ridiculous that journalists are running about covering these stories without even attempting to find out whether or not this is actually what is happening.

And before anyone thinks that this is just paranoia speaking, consider the latest spate of professional athletes coming out of the closet. First, they make the brave choice to tell the world that they are gay, and then they thank the press for focusing on their athletic prowess, as opposed to their choice of bed partners. Either they were looking for some cheap publicity, or they’re insane. Yes, it is a good thing to be honest with the management of a team that is looking to sign them, but it’s not necessary to make a public announcement to do that. There was nothing stopping them from keeping that detail out of the public eye, sharing it only with teams they were actively negotiating with, and then quietly coming out with teammates, if management agreed it was the right thing to do. This is a workplace first, even though it is in the spotlight. While Brewer didn’t mention the NFL as part of the reasoning behind her decision to veto this bill, it’s difficult to think that it didn’t play a part. It wasn’t likely that she would choose to sign a bill that would cause the NFL to avoid hosting the Super Bowl in Arizona ever again.

If we have become a nation where everyone must share the details of their intimate lives with everyone else, then we really are lost. And as for the gay population that has caused NBC to categorize a straight, married family man as someone who is engaging in an alternative lifestyle, perhaps there really is something wrong with how we as a society are being forced to like people that are gay. That is what is happening at this point. It has stepped beyond the point where anyone is fighting for equality. We have entered the territory where the public is being legally forced to like other people. That isn’t freedom, and it isn’t real acceptance. As for anything positive that conservatives can do in the face of this rising tide of forced acceptance, we need to remind people that this is not about bigotry. It is about people holding onto and defending their belief systems. We need to remind everyone that this is not about excluding anyone. It is about preserving the sanctity of a religious ceremony that like so many other portions of religious tradition, has been co-opted by retailers to the point where what is sacred about it is too easily forgotten. And most importantly, we need to ask the people that are fighting so severely over sweets and photos why they are ignoring the truly inhumane atrocities that are being committed against gays worldwide. In the face of torture, executions, laws forbidding homosexuality, and “hit lists” of gays appearing in the newspapers of those countries – couples in the U.S. being told that a businessperson is morally opposed to them marrying, and won’t bake them a cake pales in comparison.


Liz Harrison

Liz Harrison can be found at, Conservative Daily News, United Liberty, Misfit Politics, and Liz broadcasts weekly on FTR Radio (with another Goldwater Gal contributor, Taylor Millard (@EyeDesertBlog). She also hosts Jabberwonky and produces a few shows on CDN Radio, where she is the director of programming. Ensuring the next generation of politically active conservatives, Liz and her husband James are raising a politically precocious 12-year-old son, who is "The Pint-Sized Pundit" on his mom's talk shows.

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