by Dan Savage
on Thu, Feb 27, 2014 at 12:21 PM
Andrew Sullivan has some advice for same-sex couples who encounter discrimination at the hands bakers, wedding photographers, florists, caterers...
Yes, they may simply be homophobic, rather than attached to a coherent religious worldview. But so what? There are plenty of non-homophobic bakers in Arizona. If we decide that our only response to discrimination is a lawsuit, we gays are ratcheting up a culture war we would do better to leave alone. We run the risk of becoming just as intolerant as the anti-gay bigots, if we seek to coerce people into tolerance. If we value our freedom as gay people in living our lives the way we wish, we should defend that same freedom to sincere religious believers and also, yes, to bigots and haters. You do not conquer intolerance with intolerance. As a gay Christian, I’m particularly horrified by the attempt to force anyone to do anything they really feel violates their conscience, sense of self, or even just comfort.
So I’m with Big Gay Al, and always have been. Let bigots be bigots. Let gays be gays. And when those values conflict, let’s do all we can not to force the issue. We’re living in a time of drastic change with respect to homosexuality. It is perfectly understandable that many traditional-minded people, especially in the older age brackets, are disconcerted, upset and confused. So give them some space; instead of suing them, talk to them. Try seeing things from their point of view. Appeal to their better nature as Christians. And start defusing by your tolerance the paranoia and hysteria Roger Ailes lives off.
Activists and lawmakers hustled their butts for more than a decade to include sexual orientation in our state's anti-discrimination statute. We went to the mat to pass gay marriage. What's the point of those victories if we're willing to give up what we've just won? Who are those laws for if we turn our backs on the people being refused service? We didn't pass those laws as feel-good keepsakes for gay-ol' Seattle, where we don't need 'em. Those laws are essential for the gays toughing it out in the hateful hinterlands. Failing to sue would set a precedent that the anti-discrimination law—which Senator Cal Anderson fought his entire career to pass, it bears mentioning—isn't worth shit because the gays are too fucking cowardly to enforce it.
Still, some are mewling that lawsuits aren't the way to win the war of public opinion, that we should be fighting bigger battles. One of my friends said we should consider public accommodations to be necessities, like hospital visitation or lunch, but not flowers. But this isn't about flowers. It's about the Christian right seeing how far they can push this envelope. The line between trivial product and necessary service is an impossibly broad gray area. But if you believe same-sex marriage is a right, then consider the products and services that society defines as essential to that wedding. It's not a seat on the bus or a seat at the lunch counter—but it's just as important. It is a reception hall, a dress, a tux, a bouquet. We as a society wouldn't stand idly by if a stockbroker refused to take an investor simply because she's a woman or if a caterer refused to serve food for a community group because it comprises African Americans.
You could say I'm torn.
But here's a suggestion for all the hatey, butt-sore, anti-gay bakers in Arizona: start an organization—The Arizona Association of Homophobic Bakers—and publicly identify yourselves as homophobic bakers. Put up a website with a list of bakeries that don't want to do business with LGBT people. Put signs in your windows that clearly state that gay and lesbian customers are not welcome and will be turned away.
As Anderson Cooper pointed out earlier this week, gays and lesbians are not covered by existing anti-discrimination law in Arizona. So it's perfectly legal right now for bakers—and florists and caterers and photographers—to discriminate against LGBT customers. Discriminating against LGBT people was legal in Arizona before Jan Brewer vetoed the turn-away-the-gays bill, and it remains legal after her veto. So homophobic bakers who identify themselves as haters and bigots run no legal risk. They can't be sued by the individual gay people they discriminate against and the authorities can't fine 'em or shut 'em down. Don't want gay customers? Great. Let us know who you are. Put up a list online, hang signs in your windows, and we will take our business elsewhere.
The homophobic bakers of Arizona will do no such thing of course. Because hater bakers know that putting "We Don't Serve Gay People" signs in their windows will not only cost them our business—business they don't want—but also the business of our straight friends, family members, and neighbors. Business they do want. And they'll also lose the business of fair-minded straight people who think discrimination is wrong. And they'll lose the business of straight people who worry about where this kind of selective, hypocritical, faith-rationalized discrimination could ultimately lead.
But if homophobic bakers don't have the courage to put up a list—if they don't have the courage of their own sincerely-held, faith-based convictions—then LGBT activists in Arizona should do it for them. How many bakeries are there in Arizona? Can't be more than few hundred. Get a group of people together, call all the bakeries in the state, find out who doesn't want our business, and post the list online. Then encourage LGBT people and our friends, family members, and neighbors to consult that handy list of hater bakers before ordering wedding or birthday cakes.
That's not the way homophobic bakers want it to work. Or homophobic florists or photographers or caterers for that matter. They want to quietly and discreetly refuse to serve individual customers who happen to be gay without their other customers finding out. They wanna hate on the down low because they know that customers who may not be gay themselves—people who know and love LGBT people, customers who don't approve of discrimination on principal, other minorities who worry that they could be next—will take their business elsewhere.