Today we have the tale of the latest religious right martyrs, they who have given their very lives for the deeply held beliefs they hold dear.
Wait, no, this isn’t the fourth century. Today we have a tale of bridal shop owners and inn operators refusing various services to same-sex couples in Pennsylvania, and facing public backlash from consumers. The owners of the W.W. Bridal Boutique in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, claimed that to sell wedding dresses to one lesbian couple would “break God’s law,” because there are apparently so many Biblical laws pertaining to wedding dresses. Who knew? They refused them service:
The Press Enterprise of Bloomsburg spoke with boutique owner Victoria Miller, who defended the discrimination. “We feel we have to answer to God for what we do,” she explained, “And providing those two girls dresses for a sanctified marriage would break God’s law.” Her lawyer, Al Luschas, added that Miller has a “liberty interest” if the wedding violates her “firmly and honestly held religious beliefs.
Oh, her “firmly and honestly held religious beliefs.” Of course, the W.W. Bridal Boutique is not a ministry of a church, but rather a public accommodation, and as such, the storefront does not actually have religious beliefs. However, in Pennsylvania, though marriage equality is now legal, other forms of discrimination are still allowed:
Pennsylvania is currently the only state in which same-sex couples can legally marry, but also legally be refused jobs, housing, and public services just because of their sexual orientation. Many municipalities across the commonwealth have passed local nondiscrimination protections to compensate for the lack of state and federal laws, but Bloomsburg is not one of them — yet. This means that the discrimination these women experienced was perfectly legal.
This is what the religious right claims to want. They don’t want anti-discrimination laws on the books, and if those do exist, they want special privileges carved out so they don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else. They want the free market to be ridiculously free, so free that anybody can choose to do or not do business with anyone they like.
This is, of course, just like the segregationists who founded the religious right. (They don’t like to admit that their movement was born out of the racist, segregationist movement.) This is the modern religious right version of whites-only lunch counters.
When people heard about the discriminatory policies of W.W. Bridal Boutique and the Inne Of The Abingtons, which refused service for a lesbian couple’s wedding, the stories went viral and savvy consumers headed to Yelp to leave reviews for these businesses. Would you believe that the religious right is now going ballistic because people are daring to criticize these businesses publicly for exhibiting hatred toward customers? Cue Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel, crying that the owners of the boutique are being attacked:
Poor things. They’re being attacked with “false reviews.” Meanwhile, Tony Perkins had his own whine on the subject at Matt Barber’s online mental health inpatient ward:
Instead of showing the tolerance their movement claims to practice, the women turned to social media to bully the shop — trashing its online reviews and sparking a city-wide firestorm. Miller, whose orthodox beliefs are in the bulls-eye, isn’t backing down. “We feel we have to answer to God for what we do,” she told reporters, “and providing those two girls dresses for a sanctified marriage would break God’s law.”
Obviously, W.W. Bridal Boutique isn’t the only wedding dress shop in town. These women could have easily taken their business elsewhere — but chose to retaliate instead. That’s because, at its core, this isn’t about accommodation. It’s about forced acceptance. When religious liberty clashes with homosexuality — as it has from bakeries to flower shops — the storylines are all the same: conform or be punished.
Back in Pennsylvania, Victoria Miller continues to be a target. “As a fellow Christian, I’m ashamed of people like you,” one commenter wrote. “We are taught to love our neighbor regardless.” Unfortunately, culturally intoxicated believers like this one have a misguided (and convenient) view of Christ’s calling. Real love doesn’t mean you facilitate people’s desires that are both harmful to them and society. It means speaking the truth in love.
Oh, but wait! I thought that, according to these businesses and their spokes-haters, that they’re being “attacked” by “homosexual activists.” But the comment Tony just quoted is simply from “a fellow Christian.” What is going on here? Have “homosexual activists” really taken control of everything, or is it that bigotry is simply no longer socially acceptable?
The religious right says, “why don’t they just go somewhere that wants their business?” Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you’re in Chicago and there are fifty other vendors with a similar service in a mile radius, and you can tap an app on your phone to find them. Sometimes you’re in the middle of Nebraska, and that business is the only game in town. Allowing willy-nilly discrimination, simply because a business owner doesn’t “approve of” a customer’s lifestyle, just doesn’t work.
Religious right hate group leaders like Staver and Perkins believe that businesses such as these should be able to discriminate freely, and that they should be above criticism. Indeed, since they believe that their Judeo-Christian Supremacist worldview is superior to every other, they believe they are above reproach. And, of course, they believe they’re above the law.
Problem for them? Before the Civil Rights Act was passed, the racists upon whose rock the religious right’s church was built still had widespread public support in the South, and in many other pockets of the nation. It was a hate that millions of people agreed on. But that’s not how this current fight is anymore. You see, those on the side of equality have majority support in the United States, and we also are more social media savvy. So, you bet your life that, as stories of businesses taking the particularly stupid financial approach of turning away paying customers in the name of raw bigotry — excuse me, “deeply held religious beliefs,” just like the segregationists preached — go viral, consumers with Yelp and UrbanSpoon apps are going to exercise their rights in the free market and leave reviews about the service those businesses have given or refused to give to LGBT customers, whether or not said Yelp users were personally at that place of business.
Anti-gay bigots may feel stuck between a rock and a hard place, realizing that their desire to not only have special provisions carved into the law allowing them to discriminate, but also to do this without any criticism or ramifications, is not something that exists in reality land. Assuming they lose their fight to create a transmogrified version of “religious freedom” the founders never intended, they will simply have to comply with the law and abide by the same rules as everyone else. (Or they can, as Matt Barber flaccidly huffs and puffs, engage in civil disobedience and wait for trains that will never come to take them to concentration camps that will never be built.) If, somehow, the religious right is able to temporarily forestall the inevitable and earn a special access to discriminate in certain cases, consumers (the majority of whom are on our side) will use instances of their discrimination to spread the word about those businesses’ practices, just like savvy consumers do. I guess these hate group leaders are in a bit of a pickle!
Of course, those business owners do have a third choice aside from the rock and the hard place — they could try not bringing their bigotry to work with them. It just might work!