A bill introduced in Washington state last week would allow people to use their “sincerely held religious beliefs” to justify discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation. One activist started calling the bill’s sponsors to find out more about why they supported such a negative bill. His primary question was, “What are rural gays supposed to do if the only gas station or grocery store for miles won’t sell them gas and food?”
A staffer at state Sen. Mike Hewitt’s (R) office had a unique reply:
Well, gay people can just grow their own food.
The staffer refused to identify himself, and when others called Hewitt’s office, no further comment was offered. The staffer later backpedaled a bit, claiming “patience was lost, mistakes were made, and that’s it,” but still had no comment on behalf of Hewitt.
The question is a perfectly valid one. Conservatives often argue that if a florist, photographer, baker, or other business refuses service to a same-sex couples, there are plenty of others champing at the bit to support marriage equality. In urban areas, this may generally be true — but it’s not an argument that justifies discrimination. In rural areas, it may very well not be true. What if there is no local alternative? What if the only alternative is more expensive, of a lesser quality, or further away? The proposed bill doesn’t merely exempt those who provide services that might be related to weddings; it exempts all businesses. So it’s quite possible that a rural grocery store might be Christian-owned and attempt to refuse service to a same-sex family, and were this bill to become law, that would be perfectly legal.
If a lawmaker’s staffer is willing to suggest that the alternative for same-sex families is to be self-sufficient and cut off from society, that should be a clear indication that this bill’s sole intent is animus.