EQUALITY

A Muslim Cleric Walks Into a Gay Bar...

No, non-discrimination laws don’t just affect Christian bakers. Everyone deserves equal treatment, and businesses should be forced to serve everyone.

It’s hard to be a conservative in America these days. When fundamentalist Islamists terrorize innocent citizens, you tweet something about how we have to stop all Muslims from imposing their Sharia law on “us.” And when the Supreme Court announces it will review a set of cases on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, you freak out about gay people imposing their gayness on all of “us.” Of course, you don’t seem to mind imposing your intolerant version of Christianity on all of “us” and we let you try — because we call that freedom.

In the wake of these confounding events, as someone who supports gay rights and has tried to place the fringe violence of Muslim zealots in contrast with the majority of peaceful and tolerant Muslims, many conservatives accuse me of opposing freedom. Wrong. Yes, I have no problem “forcing” conservative Christian-owned bakeries to make cakes for gay weddings. But that’s not all…

In the spirit of blending religious pluralism with democratic inclusion, we have basic principles of equal treatment, backed up by non-discrimination laws where they apply. And so here are some other scenarios in which I believe some Americans should be “forced” to accommodate others based on our nation’s values and laws:

An atheist baker should be forced to make a first communion cake…

If you run a bakery, you run a business, not a church. So good on you for whatever your religious beliefs may or may not be. But under federal law, as well as many state laws, businesses cannot discriminate on the basis of religion. You don’t get to impose your religious beliefs on your customers, nor can you turn away customers because of their religious faith. That is illegal discrimination.

A fundamentalist Muslim barber should be forced to cut a butch lesbian’s hair…

Now this is where it gets interesting. Personally, I don’t believe a barber—again, a private business owner—should be able to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, just as he or she can’t discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs. Yet currently, only 21 states have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public accommodations. And sexual orientation is not included in anti-discrimination laws at the federal level. But it should be. So yes, if a fundamentalist Muslim barber runs a haircutting business, he should have to serve anyone who wants to pay for a haircut, including me.

A gay restaurant has to serve straight people…

It’s intriguing that so much attention is focused on how poor unfortunate white heterosexual Christian conservatives will be forced to accept the lifestyles of heathen gay couples… But if it’s not already obvious, part of my point in this piece is that the same people don’t seem to complain that such non-discrimination laws help ensure their own equitable treatment and access in our society. Those championing the right to discriminate generally want the right to discriminate against others, but for others to not be able to discriminate against them.

A radical lesbian feminist hotel has to give a room to a devout heterosexual Mormon couple….

Are you starting to get the idea? And just in case you’re worried, non-discrimination laws that require a radical lesbian feminist hotel to accommodate a devout heterosexual Mormon couple do not force the radical lesbian feminists to change their beliefs. Sheesh. Nor are they being forced to implicitly endorse the devout heterosexual Mormon couple’s lifestyle choice. Who would even suggest such a thing?!

A gay rights organization cannot fire a devout Christian…

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Again, federal non-discrimination protections that prohibit discrimination based on religion apply to everyone. But only 20 states have laws expressly banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Even then, under some laws, especially gay rights anti-discrimination laws, some religiously oriented non-profits have an exemption. But you’ll note the reverse is not true. Which means that, under the law, a gay rights organization cannot—nor should not be able to, in my opinion—fire an employee because of his or her religious beliefs. However, under most state law and at the federal level currently, the reverse is not true. Anyone think that’s fair?

A transgender bar has to serve an orthodox Jewish rabbi….

Let’s say a group of Lubavitch Jews decide to take in a drag show. Under religious non-discrimination laws in place nationwide, the Orthodox Jews cannot be denied service. But in 34 states, there are no laws prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations based on gender identity. And so in those states, a bar does not have to serve a trans patron—though, again, I think such laws should be passed nationwide.

All non-discrimination laws are written in ways to allow exceptions. Religious groups, for instance, are allowed to discriminate against women and gay people and trans folk—though it should be noted women’s groups and gay groups and trans groups don’t get such special permission to discriminate.

Anyway, for private businesses the laws are also generally written to allow common sense exceptions. For instance, if there were a religious group that believed digital cameras robbed those being photographed of their souls, a wedding photographer could not be forced to take on that client if the photographer only uses digital cameras. And if a gay couple wanted a rainbow wedding cake, they couldn’t force a bakery that doesn’t use food dye to nonetheless accommodate them.

The point isn’t to make private businesses contort themselves in service of tolerance and pluralism. The point is that businesses should serve everyone the same and not discriminate. Once upon a time it was lunch counters. Now it’s wedding cakes. The principle, and our essential values as a nation, are the same—values toward which we’re always striving, no matter the new scenarios. Conservatives, stop worrying about all the ways you feel you’ll be “discriminated against” yourselves by having to treat people equally and start pondering why you’re so invested in perpetually propping up your rights to discriminate against others. That’s hypocritical. And un-American. Also, you’re missing all the good drag shows.