My son is having trouble processing the whole gay marriage debate. He doesn’t understand why we can’t just treat people equally, with dignity and respect. He really doesn’t understand why it’s ok for states to make laws that deny a basic legal status to citizens or why it’s ok for them to make laws allowing you to “be all judgy” about someone and tell them you won’t help them.
When he hears debates over “lifestyle choices,” he’s confused because he doesn’t think it should matter. He doesn’t care if LGBTQ propensities are genetic or choices (or a combination). Gay marriage should be a Thing, he thinks, and there should be no reason to refuse anyone housing or employment based on sexual preference or gender identity (which is another issue altogether).
However, in the public debate over gay marriage and the way we treat LGBTQ folks, the “choice” issue matters. Even though religious arguments were used in the debate over racial civil rights, in the end, no one could deny that skin color wasn’t a choice. This is crux of the debate. If sexual orientation/preference and gender identity are choices, rather than genetic predispositions, then religious types who feel that they should maintain a certain amount of privilege (under the guise of “religious freedom” of course), have the “right” to deny another humans basic dignity, civil countenance, and common courtesy because, of course, their religion tells them it’s ok to “hate the sin” and punish others who are sinning against God. All done lovingly, of course.
Choice is a big deal in this debate because there are two rights that Americans hold sacred above all others:
- Right to religious “conscience”
- Right of businesses to do whatever the hell they want
When we talk about rights and freedoms, there are groups that talk about having access to the same opportunities and public services others already have (but they don’t), and there are those who talk of having the right to refuse to provide that access on the grounds that they shouldn’t have to violate their conscience or because they’re a private business and as we all know, the so-called “free market” is the highest principle of the land.
In a society that elevates religion above all else, the lifestyle choice issue is a big deal. My son doesn’t see it as such; he thinks you should treat people the same no matter what. Whether you’re a gay couple looking for a pediatrician for your baby, or whether you just want a wedding cake, my son has this crazy idea that when you provide general services to the public, you shouldn’t discriminate.
But “religious liberty” says that if you think someone is living in sin, you should be able to punish them — or at least avoid looking as though you are condoning their sinful behavior — by refusing to perform their lawful marriages or allowing them as tenants. This religious liberty is so ascendant that it even goes so far as to say that religious beliefs, when voted on, should be used to deny the secular legal status associated with marriage in our society. (The issue of whether or not you are truly denying someone access if you can find someone else willing to perform the same service is a thorny issue for another day. The complexities of whether there are other doctors or wedding cake makers or affordable housing within a reasonable distance, and those implications, are a big chunk of the debate as well.)
Which brings us back to choice. If LGBTQ leanings have a biological basis, that means that it’s not so much of a choice. It brings up uncomfortable questions about how God created humans. You can’t deny that God created different colored skins. They’re right there for the eye to see. At some point, you have to recognize that we’re talking about human beings deserving of dignity — and equitable access. At some point, religious conservatives decided that perhaps God didn’t create certain races as inferior (and to be treated as such) and they decided that since you couldn’t pick your skin color anyway, maybe you shouldn’t refuse to bake an interracial couple a cake on the grounds that your religion says interracial marriage is a sin, or at the very least discouraged.
LGBTQ choice, though, is a different issue from this standpoint. If it’s more of a choice (even if it’s one with genetic influence) than a biological imperative, well, then things are different. In that case, Christlike folks have the “right” to follow their consciences. Without being judgmental, of course. And that means that they should be able to show their disapproval of the choices made by these sinners in avoiding doing anything that might look like acceptance of or, heaven forbid, helping with, the sin. It’s hard to discriminate between the sinful when a heterosexual couple walks up to you and asks for an apartment, or a wedding cake, or for care for their two-year-old. How can you tell — without asking them — whether or not they are following your religion’s prescribed sexual requirements? They could be living together out of wedlock. Or using birth control. Or having sex for pleasure instead of procreation. All of those are lifestyle choice “sins” in some religions. But, of course, you wouldn’t deny service to those folks because you can’t really tell, just by looking at them, that they are living in sin. It’s much easier for the righteously judging religious person to take a stand for the right kind of family when it’s a same-sex couple involved.
In all of this, if you show disapproval of this choice to “stand up” for righteousness, you are stamping on religious freedom. Consequences for LGBTQ choices must be enforced, and that means the right of conscience to refuse service — public or private. But the consequences that follow when others speak out against your choice to refuse services? That’s true oppression.