I get myself into the most interesting conversations. Usually that’s because I’ve figured out that one of the greatest secrets to an interesting and happy life is to surround yourself with interesting and incredibly clever people. I’ve said before that we don’t all need to agree. And sometimes, it’s better when we don’t agree.
So some of my friends have a big problem with agencies like the Human Rights Commission, and its various regional agencies. I’ve heard, plenty of times, about how we are becoming such a sensitive society that it doesn’t matter what you do or say, someone will take offense to something. I have also heard recently the comment that when nobody takes offense to things anymore, that’s a sign that we’ve actually made progress when it comes to human rights.
I’m going to parse something here: The OED defines Human Rights as
a right that is believed to belong justifiably to every person
Human rights are “commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being”. Human rights are thus conceived as universal (applicable everywhere) and egalitarian (the same for everyone).
So. Now that we’re on the same page as to what human rights are, I’m going to say something that you’re probably going to find distasteful. Well, you might. I’m still not entirely certain how I feel about this myself.
With the passing of equality in marriage legislation all over the world (which will, I desperately hope, eventually lead to a greater separation of religion and government) come a number of challenges that arise, by and large, because the majority of western civilization as it currently stands has been governed by people who, for the most part, come from a fairly homogeneous background: religious. Specifically, Abrahamic (which is also called Judaeo-Christian-Muslim) religions.
This means that when we enact legislation that makes it unequivocally clear that marriage is marriage is marriage regardless of the shape of your reproductive organs, there are people who are going to remain opposed to the practice of certain behaviours for religious reasons. And I am just going to be VERY clear that I fully support anyone in their religious beliefs. I am also not going to discuss at all what my own religious beliefs are. Not that that matters.
In the past little while, there have been cases which have popped up involving non-traditional fiancées being denied marriage/wedding services because the proprietors of local businesses refuse to provide these services on religious grounds. In many cases, the couples involved have taken their cases to their local human rights commission. And, for the most part, their experiences have been declared discriminatory treatment.
There is a second argument here, though. It is an argument that, yes, comes from a place of privilege. It comes from a place of, for lack of a better term, majority. Of tradition. Of what has always been. The argument is that if human rights protect us from discrimination, they ought to apply unilaterally. Which is to say, not only should these laws protect us from discrimination based on race, religion, gender identity, and sexual preference, but they ought also to protect us from discrimination based AGAINST race, religion, gender identity, and sexual preference.
What I mean is, the argument that the marriage commissioner has the right to deny his services to gay couples. That a baker has the right to deny his services to gay couples. That a dressmaker has the right to deny her services to a transgender woman. Now these claims are distasteful to us, of course. Because it is clear to us that these business owners are denying their services on a prejudicial basis. It makes sense to me that if you can’t provide the major part of your services to a portion of the population based on your own religious beliefs, you may be misunderstanding your religious doctrines.
I’ve studied comparative religions, and I’ve probably studied a dozen religious traditions relatively thoroughly, and while I can’t tell you what some of the finer parts of their theologies may be, I can tell you that none of the religions I have ever studied (and this includes, but is not limited to the Abrahamic religions) say it is against God’s law to bake a cake. I’m serious. Not a single religion that I’ve come across says your soul will be eternally punished for baking a cake. Nor for letting a man wear a dress in your shop. I mean, many religions are very, very, VERY clear on what you can and cannot do, right down to what you’re permitted to eat when, and which hand you ought to wipe your bottom with. And NONE of them say “thou shalt not bake a cake unto a faggot; likewise unto a dyke; likewise unto an hermaphrodite”.
In fact, there isn’t any part of the bible that says it’s against God’s law to perform a civil marriage ceremony if the people you’re marrying are two dudes. Or two ladies. Or two snails. What it SAYS is that those folks can’t “lay with one another”. Which means that WHAT THEY DO IN PUBLIC, INCLUDING PROFESS THEIR LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER, IS NOT YOUR BUSINESS. What the liturgies DO say is that the purpose of marriage is to sanctify the sin of fornication FOR THE EXPRESS PURPOSE OF MAKING BABIES. (Seriously. If people who are past child-bearing years want to get married, there’s a different liturgy.) The whole point of marriage *in the church* is null and void when the people getting married aren’t going to be making babies with one another, so since it’s a moot point, there is no Great Directive that says “Thou shalt not marry two dudes, nor two ladies, nor anything other than one dude and one lady. Snails are Right Out.”
Now, I don’t want to get into THAT discussion. I’m just pointing out the facts.
So. You have a business. Your business caters to people getting married. YOU have a problem with any form of marriage other than dude+lady. Therefore, you do not want to provide your service to dude+dude; lady+lady; snail+cockatoo…whatever. You are being discriminatory. Yes you are. YES, you ARE. That is a FACT. You are, in fact, kind of being the poster child for ‘discrimination’. You are discerning between “services for heterosexuals” and “services for non-heterosexuals”. As things currently stand, if this is your position, complaints can (and probably will) be levied against you for discrimination by some form of human rights organisation. AND THEY WOULD BE RIGHT TO DO SO. Because the purview of the human rights association is to ensure people have equal access to publicly provided services.
Now if you are denied services based on your religious beliefs, heritage, gender identity, and/or sexual preference, *you* get to launch a complaint with the human rights association. HOWEVER. You do NOT get to complain that you are being discriminated against for being charged for being discriminatory. Which is to say, if you are providing a service to the public, you must provide that service to the public. That’s the way things work right now. It’s a free market thing. If you don’t want to provide a service to the public, then don’t provide a service to the public.
If you want to hang a sign in your window that says “we only serve heterosexuals”, you should! I guarantee someone else will move in next door and hang a sign that says “we only serve homosexuals”. And you could BOTH be charged by the human rights commission. But it’s an interesting proposal. Segregation worked quite well in the US for many years in keeping one type of person out of another type of person’s shop.
Is buying a cake a right? No. Is having a wedding cake at your wedding a right? No. Is buying a dress a right? No. The RIGHT that is being violated in each of these cases is the *equal access to service*. You can have a perfectly good wedding without a cake, without a dress (#DownWithPants), and without confetti. Gay confetti OR straight confetti. But if you WANT a cake, you should be able to GET a cake. If the bigot up the street doesn’t want to serve you because you’re gay, he shouldn’t be in business. If he had hung a sign up in his window that said “We only do wedding cakes for hetero couples”, you wouldn’t have even gone into his shop; you’d have walked right by it to the shop with “We LOVE gay cakes!” sign in the window. And truthfully, so would I.
So there is an argument that a free market approach to this sort of thing is okay. That, as long as there are businesses who provide services to everyone equally, you should be able to be as select with your clientele as you wish. I’m trying to think of a business that actually works on this model and all I can come up with is private clubs (you know, like those golf clubs down south where they still don’t allow women, Jews, or black folks to play unless they have a white, Christian member invite them?), but not service-industry business. So examples would be good here.
It’s kind of like companies in Canada who provide services only in French or only in English. That’s illegal, because we have to provide services in both languages…but that’s the same kind of idea. It’s also a little like companies that only provide services in one region.
Basically, let the market determine this stuff, is the suggestion. Again, based on the premise that you still have equal access to the same services. Now, you’d also have to be okay with restaurants that only serve Chinese people, and clothing stores that only let you shop there if you’re a Muslim male, and banks that only people under 40 can use, and hotels that will only rent a room to you if you show them your marriage license. Certainly, I’d be spending my money at the shops and services which allowed everyone.
The government is not telling people that they can’t have their own businesses. The government is not telling people how to run their businesses. The human rights associations aren’t telling religious people that they can’t practice their religions. What the human rights associations are saying is that you cannot deny OTHERS services based on YOUR religion. The PEOPLE are telling business owners what is acceptable business practice. WE elect the legislators who draft the laws that we have to follow. Human rights associations are there to ensure the laws that are already in existence are followed. You can have sour grapes all you want over the idea that women get to vote, but the politicians that YOU elected to speak for you are making these laws.
So until you can show me where in any religious text it says “as a member of this church, you can not sell cake to the gays”, I will not believe you that it is against your religion to provide a wedding cake to someone. What if someone wanted to buy a wedding cake for a FAKE WEDDING? That’s a LIE! Lies are against your religion too. Are you saying you wouldn’t sell someone a wedding cake for a fake wedding? For a LIE? And until you can show me where in any religious text it says “as a member of this church, you can not sell dresses to the trannies”, I will not believe you that it is against your religions to provide a dress (or a dressing room) to someone. What if it was for a costume party? Would you still deny service then? And until you can show me where in any religious text it says “as a member of this church, you may not provide non-religious civil services”, I will not believe you that it is against your religion to provide commissioner of oaths services. So while I will be the first to stand up for you when your rights are ACTUALLY tramped upon…when they tell you you can’t practice your religion, or you can’t eat fish on Friday, or you can’t wear religious headgear, I will NOT stand up for you when you use your religion to explain your bigotry.
Wow. That got waaay off the rails. Sorry.