Columnist J.M. Sorrell: Discrimination or religious freedom?

  • The writer is shown in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

On June 5, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 for the baker, Jack Phillips, in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

This stems from a case brought to that commission in 2012 when two gay men, David Mullins and Charlie Craig, were denied a wedding cake by the baker due to his religious beliefs that precluded him from performing a task that he saw as supporting same-sex marriage.

The ruling is dangerous. While two well-known LGBT legal advocacy firms, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, have downplayed the significance, Lambda Legal sees it for what it is — a setback for LGBT rights.

Progressive lawyers may see the written ruling as not supporting discrimination, and yet the implicit message to the public at large is that it is OK to own a public business and to decide who to serve and how based on whatever the owner decides is his religious belief. The court decided that the Colorado commission denigrated religion when it sided with the couple.

Indeed, a commissioner said that much harm has been done in the name of religion. Did he not have the right to say this? It is true.

Religious righteousness is the height of arrogance and justification for bigotry. It has been used to describe “a woman’s place,” to kill people of other faiths, to decide who is saved and who is not, to preach hatred and intolerance without remorse, and to condemn people who are different in some way (sexual orientation, race, language, religion) simply because they are not in the club.

Interracial marriage has been legal for many years now, so it is more normative than same-sex marriage. I doubt the result would have been the same if a white groom and black bride asked for mixed-race toppers on their cake and the owner was a white supremacist who refused to serve them.

Is being a white supremacist a religion? How do we define such belief systems? Are they intractable? Does the bigot, in the name of religion, have some sacred right that a bigot not hiding behind religion has?

Let’s say my “religion” is feminism. I own a restaurant. Anytime a man takes up too much space or talks too loudly, I refuse to serve him. He is patriarchy, and I do not believe in his lifestyle. It is a sincerely held belief system of mine. Does that sound ludicrous? Not to me.

The point is that we each have biases, but in a civil society we tolerate, we celebrate and we learn from each other. Under the laws of democracy and in fairness, we serve people from all backgrounds. In doing so, we teach our children the dignity of every distinct human being.

Mullins and Craig were robbed of their dignity at a moment of joyous expectation for their impending marriage. They were made to feel inferior or morally repugnant by the bakery owner. They were harmed.

What does this mean? Lambda Legal says that the Supreme Court acted as an accomplice with evangelical Christianity — as it longs to be the official government religion. I concur.

The homophobic right is emboldened now just as racists are emboldened by Trump. LGBT people still lack rights in over half of our states in areas of employment, public accommodation and adoption/foster parenting — and that is a serious problem.

Since 1994, various members of Congress have tried to move forward a federal equal rights law that would prevent such discrimination. Until it happens, many LGBT people live in fear in those states.

I believe that more states will move to add discriminatory laws, such as the recent law in Oklahoma that says religiously owned agencies can discriminate against same-sex couples who want to foster or adopt children. Again, who decides what a religious belief is or who it is protecting? In today’s world, the scales are still tipped against LGBT people, and so-called religious freedom does not make the rest of us feel free.

Attorneys can nitpick the language of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority decision and say it’s not so bad. However, the prevailing powers that be in each branch of the government are not with us. I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg.

I’m tired of my people — my LGBT friends and allies —being made to feel the subject of moral argument. There is nothing wrong with us! We love, we live, we hurt. We want peace and fairness. And we love cake.

J.M. Sorrell, of Haydenville, is a social justice activist, a trainer at the Truth School, and the spokesperson for Noho Pride. She is a wedding officiant who has served 767 couples — same and opposite sex, interracial, interspiritual, secular — all in the name of love.