Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Utah Compromise

In Utah, a sign that the Republic may not be doomed after all:
With the backing of Mormon church leaders, the Republican-dominated Utah Legislature passed a bill on Wednesday night that would ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in housing and employment, while also protecting religious institutions that object to homosexuality.

The legislation, known as “the Utah compromise,” has been hailed by Mormon leaders and gay rights advocates as a breakthrough in balancing rights and religious freedom, and as a model for other conservative states. . . .

Religious organizations and their affiliates, such as colleges and charities, would be exempted. It also would exempt the Boy Scouts of America, which voted in 2013 to end a ban on gay scouts but still prohibits gay scout leaders. The bill also would protect employees from being fired for talking about religious or moral beliefs, as long as the speech was reasonable and not harassing or disruptive.

The bill, however, does not address what has become one of the most divisive questions on gay rights nationwide: whether individual business owners, based on their religious beliefs, can refuse service to gay people or gay couples — for example, a baker who refuses to make a cake for a gay wedding.
Obviously we'll have to wait and see how this works out in practice. But it seems to me that something like this is the only possible solution in diverse America. We're simply not going to agree on this, for a long time if ever, and so working out ways to tolerate each other's views is imperative.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

We don't allow individual business owners to pick and choose whom they serve based on race, sex, or any other factor. Why should they be allowed to discriminate based on sexual orientation?

Now, obviously in practice I'm certain there is some percentage of small business owners or self-employed who still get away with small scale discrimination of all kinds - they just don't openly state their reasons. ("Sorry, I'm booked solid" and other such fabrications of convenience.) But if it can be reasonably shown that such individuals are refusing service on such grounds, they can then be taken to court.

Allowing businesses to disciminate based on arbitrary factors is simply not rational or practical.

First, if you allow one form of arbitrary discrimination, you have to allow them all. Since religious beliefs are literally infinite and entirely unbounded, using them as a basis means people can disciminate for literally any reason at all. "The color green is holy to my people! Infidels wearing green are an abomination to our beliefs! We refuse to serve them, and if we had our way they'd all be put to death!"

Second, even putting the above aside, how could you possibly police the usage, such that discrimination is based on actual facts of reality rather than just suspicion or hearsay? If a business owner suspects a patron is a homosexual / an ethnic minority / a political rival / whatever else we allow people to use as basis for discrimination, who bears the burden of proof? Are we going to issue government ID cards proving individuals' affiliations? If you're a Communist, do we require you to carry a card? If you're a Jew, do you have to wear a yellow star?

What if you're a heterosexual who speaks with a lisp and habitually wears tight leather hotpants? What if some ingoramus mistakes a Slavic babushka's headscarf for an Arabic hijab? What if an actual Arabic woman wears an actual hijab, but is devoutly Christian? Are we really going to allow any random idiot running a donut shop or a car service station or whatever to refuse people service based on such complicated and non-obvious factors as personal beliefs, sexual attractions, political affiliations, and the like?

Sadly, in the long run it's smarter not to antagonize or alienate the religiously intolerant, because nothing fuels fanaticalism like giving people reasons to feel attacked. The best way to achieve lasting change is to slowly reform, dragging them kicking and screaming into the future at a steady pace where they might grumble the whole time, but where the don't resort to radicalizing. In time, they'll either come around to rational thinking, or they'll die off or become obsolete, and be organically replaced with more tolerant parties.

But while the necessity for making tolerant compromises with intolerant bigots is not lost on me, neither is the scathing irony of doing so.