Despite the backlash after Indiana and Arkansas tried to pass laws designed to allow for discrimination against LGBT people, conservatives are still peddling the same talking point that “religious freedom” must be protected — e.g. that refusing to serve a same-sex couple’s wedding is justified for a business owner who opposes same-sex marriage. And it’s a talking point that presidential hopefuls are amplifying.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), having just tossed his hat into the presidential ring, offered a rambling answer to NPR this week in support of these “license to discriminate” provisions that demonstrates how this anti-LGBT discrimination is spun. “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,” he explained. “There’s a distinction between those two things.”
He continued, “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.” Later in the conversation, he made the point another time: “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.”
As blogger Jeremy Hooper responded, “This is a 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.”
But Rubio said one particularly revealing thing in that interview that contradicted his own messaging. At one point, he said, “And to ask someone to individually provide services to something of that nature, I think violates their religious liberty.” First, the statement confirms that what’s at stake is providing a service, not participating in a ceremony. Second, it demonstrates how same-sex couples are erased in the process, reduced to “something of that nature.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who is widely expected to join the 2016 race, is vying for a pro-discrimination bill in his state with very similar messaging. The proposed “Marriage and Conscience Act” would explicitly shield individuals from any consequences if they hold true to their belief that marriage is for different-sex couples only. This would hypothetically allow both private businesses and non-profit organizations like adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples.
Jindal outlined his full-throated support for the anti-gay legislation on Monday in his “State of the State” address. Promising that he “absolutely intends to fight for the passage of this legislation,” he explained, “This legislation DOES NOT allow a restaurant or industry to refuse service to a gay or lesbian person. The law merely ensures the state cannot deny a license, certification, accreditation, or contracts, to a person or a business on the basis of their sincerely held religious belief about marriage.”
Clarifying what he thinks actually constitutes discrimination, Jindal offered, “In the United States, a state should not be able to take adverse action against an individual for holding a sincerely held religious view regarding marriage. That would be true discrimination.”
Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz have similarly defended laws like Indiana’s, suggesting that it’s a matter of “conscience” and “religious freedom.”
That’s the whole trick behind these pro-discrimination measures. When religious conservatives refuse to sell the same wedding service to same-sex couples that they sell to different-sex couples, it’s because arranging flowers, baking a cake, or taking pictures somehow involves “participating” in the ceremony. It’s the ceremony they claim that they’re discriminating against, not the people, but of course, that’s not how the couple denied service experiences it.
The Family Research Council’s Travis Weber, writing for the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal, advocated this week for Louisiana’s bill because it would “help protect those with religious objections to being forced by the government to play a part in same-sex marriage ceremonies under threat of fines and imprisonment.” Weber contends that, as demonstrated by the backlash against Indiana’s Memories Pizza, “those who believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman are increasingly becoming a powerless minority.”
Weber is correct. The number of people who believe that people shouldn’t be treated as people is diminishing rapidly, if post-Indiana polling is any indication. It remains to be seen how this vast disconnect between public sentiment and the positions taken by these presidential hopefuls.