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Conservative proposes new way for vendors to tell gay customers they don't care for them

by Jeremy Hooper

RussellnieliConservative Princeton lecturer Russell Nieli is proposing a new approach for the bakers, florists, and assorted vendors who would prefer to turn away same-sex couples who seek their business, but who often find themselves running afoul of the law when they try. Nieli wants the vendors to do the job, but to be really, really objectionable about it. He writes, in part:

I think there is a third way. Although it may not be acceptable to all in this situation, it would be acceptable to many. It is simply this: to obey the law and serve gay weddings, but to make it known publicly that you believe that the law forcing you to do this is unjust, needs to be changed, and is obeyed only under protest and out of your respect for law and the democratic process.

The appeal of this strategy would obviously depend on how grave a wrong one considered one’s participation in gay wedding ceremonies to be. If it were a violation of one’s conscience and religion on the order of gravity of, say, participating in an abortion by a nurse or doctor who believes abortion to be murder, the strategy would obviously have to be rejected. By the reckoning of most religious people, however, destroying human life before it has even had a chance to come out of its mother’s womb is a moral violation of a radically different order of magnitude than participating in a ceremony that one deems a perversion of true marriage or a symbol of the degeneracy and confusion of modern times.

I could well imagine a pious religious couple, running the kind of wedding-focused catering hall that I once worked at in New York, posting on its premises an announcement something to this effect:

We are required by the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) provision of New York State's anti-discrimination statute to make our wedding facilities available to anyone who seeks to use them, including gay and lesbian couples who want to marry under New York's same-sex marriage law. We believe strongly in the democratic process and the rule of law. For this reason, we will obey the state law governing our business. However, we obey this law only under the gravest protest, as we believe it violates our deepest moral and religious convictions. It does so needlessly and with apparent intent to polarize our country and inflame an already overheated cultural war.

We are Christians, and we believe that marriage is exclusively a relationship between one man and one woman. It should not, in our view, be construed as a relationship between people of the same sex or relationships involving three or more people.

We realize, however, that there are many people today who do not agree with us on these matters, and who hold their opposing views just as strongly as we hold ours. We respect the views of such people. We only ask that such people respect our own views in the same way that we respect theirs, and that, in the interest of tolerance and religious pluralism, they join us in seeking repeal of a law which requires us to violate our conscience. Those people who do not believe that marriage need be restricted to its traditional form and who seek a venue to celebrate non-traditional marriages have access to many other catering halls in this area that would be more than happy to accommodate their wishes.

Please do not ask us to violate our religious beliefs. We all must work together to accommodate our sincerely held differences in these matters. Our continued existence as a free, vibrant, tolerant and loving people surely depends upon it.

Such a declaration would have many advantages over simply giving in silently to an unfair law to save one’s business. It would strike out in a public way against the injustice of such a law and gain sympathy from many quarters for the business owner’s point of view.

It would also cast the business owner in the sympathetic role of the admirable peacemaker. His opponents would be cast in the role of authoritarian bullies picking on pious religious folks and opposing simple live-and-let-live solutions to the problems posed by American pluralism. Finally, such a declaration would probably discourage gays and lesbians from ever wanting to hold their wedding celebrations at any establishment that posted such a statement. The catering hall owners would have a strong First Amendment right to air their views, and by doing so they would probably end most instances where they are asked to do what their religion and moral sense forbids.

FULL: Gay Weddings and the Shopkeeper’s Dilemma [Public Discourse]

This kind of behavior might indeed turn away fair-minded people and recruit like minds. But nice try with the idea that this would "cast the business owner in the sympathetic role of the admirable peacemaker" and cast opponents "in the role of authoritarian bullies picking on pious religious folks." This would actually do the opposite, making these vendors seem even more aggressive than before. America has an ugly history of businesses placing signs that detail which kinds of customers need not apply. The optics of these kinds of signs, if they caught on in any mainstream way, would be terrible.

Culture war conservatives are convinced this whole idea of fair public accommodations is some sort of fad that will eventually fade, allowing them to claim some sort of "victory." But the idea that we will become a patchwork America, where LGBT people will have to drive around to see which public business will perform a commercial exchange is downright ludicrous. America doesn't want that, no matter how fully folks like Nieli have convinced themselves they do.

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