Thursday, January 2, 2014

Equal Rights

I am a member of a Facebook group called “Mormons Building Bridges,” the purpose of which is as follows:
“Mormons Building Bridges is dedicated to conveying love and acceptance to LGBTQI individuals. We support all our brothers and sisters—those who identify as LGBTQI and those who identify as same-sex attracted—and work to make them feel welcome in our homes and congregations. Mormons Building Bridges is not sponsored by nor do we represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or any political party or caucus.”

I wholly support this endeavor and am actively involved in the group. However, I am constantly surprised by how much many group members’ politics diverge from my own Moderate positions. For example, the most active members seem to trend morally Liberal and consequently support current redefinition efforts. To wit, a recent post linked to a web site called, which demands equality for those who disagree with marriage redefinition, calling it—as ultraliberals often do—an “anti-equality group.” My purpose today is to show that this allegation is not only erroneous, but exactly opposite the truth.

Drilling down a bit, I’d like to focus on the first comment on this thread, which deals with the section of Fair to All entitled “Real People, Real Harm.” This section gives examples of actual individuals who have been sued or charged with crimes, each for having the audacity to exercise his or her right of conscience. The comment, by a woman named Erin (whom I actually really like), states:
“Bakers & photographers & florists cannot refuse to serve homosexuals. This strikes me as exactly like the colored lunch counter phenomena of the Jim Crow era. I agree that it is painful, but I also believe that it is necessary. If you want to do business in America, you have to do it fairly.”

This blog post is to show how inaccurate that comparison is. I thus address the remainder of this post to her.

Erin, the problem I have with your argument, re: “real people,” is that none of the people on this site—and frankly, no one in history, of whom I am aware—has “refuse[d] to serve homosexuals.” For example, in several of the cases cited, the store owners specifically stated that they would be happy to serve gay people; they just refuse to support certain events. Should bakers and photographers and florists also be forced to provide services to Westboro Baptist Church rallies? How about a KKK lynching? If the services are being refused because of the event instead of the individual(s), there is no legal discrimination at play.

Because of this, the question becomes one of how we define “gay.” Obviously, there are two logical possibilities: either sexual orientation is hardwired into our person, or it is not. I assume most people in Mormons Building Bridges would argue that it is indeed hardwired, and while I don’t believe it’s that simple, I basically agree. However, let’s consider both possibilities and see how things turn out.

Scenario 1: Sexual Orientation Is a Choice.

Put differently, a person’s sexuality is based on his or her relationship: a gay man who enters into a relationship with a woman suddenly becomes straight; a straight woman who enters into a relationship with a woman suddenly becomes gay. I don’t think anyone really accepts this position, but it is logical and thus must be dealt with.

If we argue that a person’s sexuality is based on one’s actions, then Jack Phillips—the Colorado baker who is facing jail time for discrimination—is guilty as charged. He has openly admitted that he will bake a cake for an opposite-sex commitment ceremony (which, if sexual orientation be a choice, renders its participants straight), but he will not bake a cake for a same-sex commitment ceremony (which renders its participants gay).

The point is that if it‘s impossible for a gay person to be in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, and it is also impossible for a straight person to to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex, then denying cakes to same-sex couples is discriminatory against gays. However, even though Mr. Phillips is clearly guilty, there is no crime to be prosecuted, because being gay is clearly a choice that one makes and thus not subject to nondiscrimination law.

So, if Scenario 1 be true, then Fair to All’s assertion is also true and Mr. Phillips’ rights must be protected.

Scenario 2: Sexual Orientation Is Not a Choice.

If sexual orientation is an immutable personal characteristic, something hardwired into one’s psyche, then a gay person who chooses to enter into a “traditional” (opposite-sex) relationship does not cease to be gay; and a straight person who chooses to enter into a same-sex relationship does not cease to be straight. Again, I suspect this is the position taken by most people in MBB.

If this be the case, then the validity of the lawsuit against Phillips is based entirely on whether he would offer services to straight people that are not available to gays. This could be shown in one of two ways:

a) We could establish that if a gay person asked him to bake a graduation cake, he would refuse; if a gay person asked him to bake a baptismal cake, he would refuse; etc..


b) We could establish that if a straight person asked him to bake a cake for a same-sex commitment ceremony, he would not refuse the request.

Barring either of the above criteria, Mr. Phillips is clearly not discriminating based on personal characteristics. If there is no service he would provide to a straight person that he would not provide to a gay person, there is no discrimination against persons and thus, no violation.

So, if Scenario 2 be true, then Fair to All’s assertion is also true and Mr. Phillips’ rights must be protected.

If anyone can come up with a third scenario, please post it in the comments. I’m more than happy to listen! Otherwise, I think I have sufficiently shown that Fair to All is anything but “anti-equality”; on the contrary, it is performing a great work for humanity, protecting otherwise helpless individuals from persons who use the word “equality” as code for “bigotry.”

As always, my 2¢.

Update: check out Part II!

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