The nuances of anti-discrimination

I don’t want to write yet another article about Robert George. Swarthmore has heard a plethora of opinions on the matter, and I don’t think I can add much more to that dying conversation. I do, however, want to mention it once more because it’s relevant to the broader topic at hand. There is an issue — not just here and now at Swarthmore, but in every time period in every location — to portray the opposing team as not just the antagonists but as the “bad guys.” They’re people you talk at, not to, if you talk at all.

It’s not an entirely fruitless mindset. It has its upsides and downsides, like any other mentality. That kind of mindset works when you’re trying to stir major changes. It’s oftentimes effective when trying to emphasize the reality of the situation. The mindset falls short, though, when addressing the subsequent more complex matters. People can’t just view the other side as hate-filled bigots. It’s not productive or entirely accurate. The ones who actually do qualify as hate-filled bigots aren’t going to listen to you, and the people who don’t qualify aren’t going to take you seriously if you paint the problem with broad strokes.

This brings me to Arizona and the “turn away the gay” bill and how it’s not as black-and-white as it seems to be as a general concept. The bill itself is reprehensible, completely and utterly. It should not be passed, but the sentiment it brings up is an interesting one and one that probably shouldn’t just be passed over without a second thought. It has a sizeable amount of gray in between the black and white.

The bill would allow a business to reject LGBTQ customers on religious grounds if that’s against the proprietors’ religion. Some people have compared it to the Jim Crow laws, which isn’t actually all that accurate (as it would allow for discrimination but not mandate it), but I understand the point they were trying to make with the comparison. The fact that it directly targets gay people automatically gives it a terrible start and delegitimizes it as a whole just based around its obviously prejudiced intentions.

The question that should be discussed here, though, is how much autonomy a business owner has and under what circumstances. Should they be able to pick and choose who they do business with and for what reasons? If that’s the case, it should exclude all but privately owned businesses. Taken further, you’d have to exclude private businesses that provide a vital service and private businesses of a substantial enough size to have sway over the local economy.

That leaves small, privately-owned businesses with the leeway to discriminate based upon sexual orientation. In a city that might not be so terrible: there are plenty of other options available if one business doesn’t want to serve you. In smaller towns, though, that has the potential to be a bigger problem. Some mom-and-pop places are the only businesses that provide certain specific things, restaurants and drug stores, even if they are non-vital resources. There’s clearly not one single free-enterprise idea you can tack onto it to make it less of a complicated and deeply subjective issue.

The general consensus at Swarthmore is most likely that discrimination in this vein would be clearly immoral, but just looking at it even without morals in mind it doesn’t make much sense. Bringing your personal beliefs into a work setting generally isn’t considered professional, especially when you let those beliefs affect the way you do business. And by enacting discriminatory policies, a business owner would most likely cut off their client base severely, and having as many customers and making as much money as possible is a fairly significant idea that’s swept under the rug in favor of ideals in this case.

There are plenty of logical and morally dubious problems with the bill, obviously, but I’ll play the devil’s advocate for a moment. As I said before, many people are quick to characterize the person going against them as a bad guy with malicious motives. I do not doubt that a lot of people use religion as an excuse to be exactly that, and the politicians who made and supported this bill are an example of that. But that’s not something you can generalize.

I have lived in the Bible Belt for my entire life. There were plenty of people who were the stereotypical hateful bigot, sure, but a good number of them weren’t. A good number of them genuinely believe that being gay is wrong — not in a hateful way, but with the “love the sinner, hate the sin” sensibility that I think is bullshit but they clearly don’t. I’m of the opinion that they’re totally wrong in the way they think about LGBTQ issues, but they’re not all coming at it from a hateful place like people often insist they are.

Looking at it from their perspective, for just a moment, some of the implications of anti-discrimination policies are weird. I don’t know if they’re wrong, but there’s definitely something off about them. Let’s say a man owns a small bakery and he also happens to not approve of gay marriage: A gay couple commissions a wedding cake, and he doesn’t want to make it for them for obvious reasons. It’s a weird idea that he would have to make them a cake to avoid legal repercussions. He would be deeply against having anything to do with something he did not approve of. At that point, the micromanaging seems to go a little too far.

Yes, if a gay couple walked into that man’s business and asked for a birthday cake there is no reason why they should be denied. But I can empathize with someone not wanting to help that couple with their wedding when it’s something they do not want a part in. Why am I empathizing with people who don’t empathize with my side? It’s not like they’re the people being oppressed in this situation. I simply think it’s a better way to contend with the issue than just calling them bigots and calling it a day.

1 Comment

  1. While some may consider this only a gay marriage issue, the proposed legislation in at least one US state is much broader than that. For one US state where this type of legislation was proposed, questions such as will the man of the business who does not want to make the wedding cake be required by law to post a sign on his front business door stating who he will and will not serve and in what situations. As a member of one US state that has seen this issue and similar legislation proposed, that idea was discussed in our newspapers and considered for the legislation. Also it was pointed out that unwed mothers and their children, the Jewish community, Muslim, Hindus and others who are not the white majority Christian community members (but are the minority populations) would fall into the groups who may not receive services from small business owners and others based on religious beliefs. It was pointed out that these same Christian small business people and other Christians may not be served by the fewer non Christian business owners. In one US state there was also an additional bill put before the state legislators to protect professionals, who are licensed in the state, from “losing” their licenses for not serving people based on the professional’s religious beliefs. It soon became understood that professionals, including the police and doctors, could choose to deny service to anyone for religious beliefs. The only exception was being made for life threatening situations and some medical professionals questioned that situation. In the state with the additional proposed professional license protection legislation, a small business owner would be allowed under legal protection if the bills were passed as written, to NOT bake the birthday cake or wedding cake or anything at all for LGBT people, single mothers and their children, Jewish people etc because of the bakery owner’s specific sincerely held religiously beliefs. And yes,that would happen. So empathize all you want but realize this is not only about gay marriage and would have consequences in at least one state for other people, not only the LGBTQ community.

    Concerning the state of Arizona, Anderson Cooper has written and done video pieces about another aspect pertaining to that state’s proposed legislation that may be of interest to some readers. The links are:
    Keeping Them Honest: Why is one group pushing so hard to make SB-1062 a law? Updated Mon February 24, 2014
    Defenders say SB-1062, a controversial bill passed by Arizona’s lawmakers, is necessary to protect religious freedom. They insist it’s not meant to discriminate against gays or any other groups. But opponents fear it could be used to deny ser…
    Who’s behind ‘religious freedom’ push? The answer is hard to find Updated Thur February 27, 2014
    Arizona’s divisive SB1026 — which supporters claim protected religious freedom, and critics say served as cover for businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians — didn’t come from nowhere.

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