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06/06/2018

Masterpiece: A (dangerous) nothingburger that will change nothing (and maybe everything)

by Jeremy Hooper

Since I was once so vocal about these so-called “religious freedom” cases, a number of people have asked me to jumped back on here and weigh in on the Masterpiece Cakes decision in longer form than my Twitter habits (@goodasyou) will allow. So here are a few thoughts.

 

1) I’m not surprised. Based on what we heard in court, I expected to lose. Not because we should’ve lost, but because we very much live in a country where questions regarding religion can be morphed and twisted in a way that obscures fact, even among learned people. Even among liberal-minded Supreme Court justices.

To fully understand the full range of complexities associated with anti-LGBTQ cases like this one, one needs a very specific and rarefied skills set. One needs to understand what organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom are and what they what they really one. One needs to be able to read the subtext within the carefully crafted legal briefs. One needs to have years of experience dealing with these aggressors to know why they are twisting and turning the way that they are. Very few people have this sort of obsessive knowledge base, which is why opinions like the Masterpiece one are so annoying for those of us who have done our homework. We see so many truths that we know will go unexplored in court and unexamined by the mainstream media.

 

2) Kennedy’s opinion is super flawed. The way he went after the Colorado Civil Rights Commissioners for supposed bias was super wrong-minded. The commissioners’ references to the way religion has been used to justify all sorts of things might make some uneasy, but those references are accurate. They are factual. The commissioners were not saying that Mr. Phillips is just like someone who used religion to justify slavery or the Holocaust; they were simply saying that religion has been used to justify a whole lot of bad, and that religion cannot and should not be a “get out of jail free” card. But even, religious discussions can lead even the best scholars toward anti-intellectual choices. 

 

3) The anti-LGBTQ groups know that this isn’t a big win for them. Listening to ADF lawyers on both mainstream and conservative media, it’s clear to me that this is not the outcome they wanted. Because again, I speak their language quite fluently. I know when they see a cause fro celebration and when they see concern within their “victory.” They see concern here. They know that another gay couple could go back into Masterpiece, suffer the same discrimination (or worse now that Phillips feels emboldened), and file a new suit. If the Colorado Civil Rights Commision is more careful in its (accruate) words and (factual) comparisons, this case could go right back through the courts and Mr. Phillips could continue to lose. It’s probable, actually. And if/when this happens, the ADF will be even more optionless than they were before. It could be one of those situations where their early “wins” actually help us more ably make our case—and they know it.

 

4) This opinion creates a landscape that could be both dangerous and helpful for our path toward our eventual victory on this issue. First the danger: I’m already seeing embolden anti-LGBTQ activists who seem to believe that this decision was an all-out victory for them. They feel emboldened and believe that they now have a court-tested right to not give “lip service to the queers” (something a Phillips supporter actually wrote on his donation page). This creates and obviously frightening landscape for LGBTQ people who would very much like to move forward with existences without constant fear of attack. Stay safe. Stay vigilant.

But now for the helpful part: These emboldened activists always overplay their hand. In the marriage fight, the anti-equality activists were always at their worst after they had a “victory.” Which is to say they were at their best, as their string of terrible moves when they were at their apex always served to help us more ably make our case against them. This is likely to be the case now. When business owners start trying to apply this decision in a way that turns away LGBTQ customers from everyday commerce, there will Be even more evidence of the inherent bigotry that we know to be at the heart of these cases. With only a handful of media-trained “victims,” groups like the ADF can more ably control the message. When members of a dangerous movement that they have deceived into seeing themselves on the right side of history start taking matters into their own hands, no carefully crafted ADF press release will be able to roll back the obvious discrimination at hand. And the fact that these newfound discriminators will inevitable use Masterpeice to justify their actions will make the ADF look even worse.

 

So in short: Annoying (quasi-) setback. Dangerous precedent. Still better to be us than them (by a wide mile).

 

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