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04/14/2015

What exactly are the human beings who buy wedding cakes and flowers, Sen. Rubio?

by Jeremy Hooper

In an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, Republican U.S. Senator and just-announced presidential candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL) weighed in on the so-called "religious freedom" issue that has been in the LGBT news cycle for many years now and that just made its way into the mainstream press about three weeks ago. Like others, Rubio tries to pretend that baking a cake or arranging flowers, etc., automatically becomes "participation" in a wedding, so long as it's a wedding of the same-sex. And somehow the same-sex couple who attempt to purchase the consumer goods become something other than people when they enter into the particular stores of these particular anti-LGBT vendors:

NPR's INSKEEP: Let me ask about a domestic issue. In recent weeks, the state of Indiana passed a Religious Freedom law, which was interpreted by many as discrimination, by others, as protection for people who don't want to take part in gay marriage. You defended the law and spoke about the hypothetical example of a florist who was asked to participate in a gay marriage and wanted to refuse. You said that person should have the right to follow their religious beliefs. Indiana, though, has since changed the law. Do you still support that concept?

SEN. RUBIO: Well, to be fair, I haven't read the change in detail to give you an opinion on it specifically, but I'll tell you where I stand. I don't believe you can discriminate against people. So I don't believe it's right for a florist to say, I'm not going to provide you flowers because you're gay. I think there's a difference between not providing services to a person because of their identity, who they are or who they love, and saying, I'm not going to participate in an event, a same-sex wedding, because that violates my religious beliefs. There's a distinction between those two things. So, certainly, you can't not — it's immoral and wrong to say, I'm not going to allow someone who's gay or lesbian to use my restaurant, stay in my hotel, or provide photography service to them because they're gay. The difference here is, we're not talking about discriminating against a person because of who they are, we're talking about someone who's saying — what I'm talking about, anyway, is someone who's saying, I just don't want to participate as a vendor for an event, a specific event that violates the tenets of my faith.

INSKEEP: What if two gay people get married and then they go that night to a hotel. Can the hotelkeeper refuse service to them?

RUBIO: That's not part of an event. Again, I mean, that's, there's a difference between saying, we're not going to allow you to stay in our hotel, common lodging establishment where people have a right to shelter, food, medical care, and saying we're not going to, what we're not going to do is provide services to an event, to an actual event, which is the wedding itself. And I think that's the distinction point that people have been pointing to, and, because mainstream Christianity teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman. People feel very strongly about that. And to ask someone to individually provide services to something of that nature, I think violates their religious liberty.

INSKEEP: There's a big question lurking here, which is that most Americans, according to surveys, now support gay marriage. A large minority of Americans still oppose gay marriage. The question is, that people seem to be wrestling with, is, what ground do opponents of gay marriage have left to stand on? What ground should they have to stand on?

RUBIO: First of all, if the majority of Americans support gay marriage, then you'll see it reflected in changes in state law, which has always regulated marriage. And so at the end of the day, if a majority of people in any given state in this country petition their legislature to change the definition of marriage to include the marriage of two people of the same sex, that'll be the law of the land. And that is what it is. Separate from that, there's a constitutional protection of religious liberty that allows people to live by the tenets of their faith both in their public and in private life. That doesn't mean that you're allowed to go in and disrupt a gay wedding. But by the same token, it doesn't mean that someone's allowed to come to you and force you to be a participant in a ceremony that violates the tenets of your faith. And to be honest, in the real world, 99.9% of the time, a same-sex couple doesn't want a florist or a photographer at their wedding that doesn't agree with the choice that they've made. So we're really talking about an issue that in large part is really not going to manifest itself in daily life, but in the instances that it does, there are individuals that don't want to be compelled by force of law to participate in an event that puts them in the position of violating their religious faith. There's a difference between that and discriminating against an individual because of who they are.

INSKEEP: Are there are other specific situations on your mind where you feel that people who are opposed to gay marriage would need some kind of protection from, from it?

RUBIO: Well, I mean, that's the one that's in the news today. Again, I don't, we can always sit here and engage in hypotheticals, this, that, and the other, but at the end of the day, I mean, that's the one that's emerged because there's real cases behind people being fined for not providing services to a, to a ceremony as opposed to individuals.
FULL: Transcript: NPR's Full Interview With Sen. Marco Rubio [NPR]

This is far-right fantasy. This idea that individuals cease to become individuals when their consumer request is of the wedding-centered variety is not a serious idea for serious people. The idea that vendors who are rarely at the actual ceremony or reception somehow become participants in either or both is an even more ludicrous notion.

And nice try with the distinction about public accommodations having to provide rooms to honeymooning same-sex couples, Senator, but the very same people who are championing these so-called "religious freedom" laws—the very same groups, individuals, and political allies who are forcing you to have this conversation on NPR—have all made the case for innkeepers and other shelter-providers having the supposed "right" to turn away gay couples. In fact, Mary and Jim O'Reilly, the Vermont innkeepers who attempted to turn away a lesbian couple (and who lost, obviously), were the anti-LGBT movement's big champions just a few years back. In 2012, anti-gay organizations used them in campaign ads! Those of us who have been in this conversation for more than a month remember that all of the anti-LGBT organizations and media outlets rallied around this couple, just like they rallied around similar couples in similar situations.

But if the junior senator from Florida is going to align himself with this movement and keep defending discrimination like this, he's going to keep finding himself in rhetorical traps. Why? Because the other side has created a flimsy defense of an easily perceptible problem, with their nuance coming in the form of rhetoric rather than reality. While those who opposed civil marriage equality in this late stage will have their own political face-egg to wipe off, those who stepped up and tried to reopen this, a simple matter of fair business practice that most of us thought we had settled many years ago, will likely have a more embarrassing public record for which to answer. Not only is this "religious freedom" nonsense a clear attempt to justify discrimination, but it's also a noxious attempt to redefine words and concepts and realities in order to exalt faith above basic freedoms. It's also a bad faith effort on the part of its proponents who refuse to accept that most of us very much support true and genuine religious freedom, as it has always been understood. What they are seeking is a special license to discriminate.

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