Last week, amid the legislative battles over "religious freedom" laws, the story of an Indiana pizzeria went viral when its owners said they would refuse to cater weddings of same-sex couples. There is likely not a single gay couple in the state who would want to order a bunch of cheese pies for their wedding day. And yet, the anti-gay establishment earned itself more than $800,000 in donations after the announcement, opening up the heated discussion of gay rights as it conflicts with business' "religious freedom" to deny service to groups of individuals. Somehow, last night's episode of "The Good Wife" was about exactly that.
It's impossible this kind of timing could have been planned (CBS pointed out that the episode had been "written and filmed in February"), but the similarities were almost too eerie to think otherwise. Instead of Indiana pizza from a place called Memories, "The Good Wife" took on a California baker's refusal to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.
As a subplot in the Season 6 episode "Loser Edit," R.D. (Oliver Platt) consults Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) on the pros and cons of re-opening the baker's case. Fabulously liberal, Diane is always vocal about her support of gay rights. Still, called upon to play "devil's advocate," she cloaks her (rightful) outrage over the bigoted ideas presented in favor of a cool, calm argument about the way the gay couples' rights trump any feasible argument for "religious freedom."
"Diane never preaches from a bully pulpit or turns the courtroom into a soapbox," Kevin Fallon wrote at The Daily Beast." "Instead, and with just the slightest glint of gay rights-crusading twinkling in her eye, she works through a logical, irrefutable legal defense that uncovers the hypocrisy of commercial enterprises that cite religious accommodation as justification for what is so clearly bigotry and unlawful discrimination."
The purpose of "Loser Edit" is not simply to assert that discrimination is wrong, but to walk through the complex ways in which it is legally untenable. "You're wondering whether to take up this baker's appeal? No, obviously," Diane says. "It's not because I'm a liberal, it's because you won't win."
The baker's lawyers argue that, as a business, the baker is guaranteed free practice of religion, at which time Diane cites the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which forbids "discrimination against LGBT peoples."
Their debate continues to unpack more nuanced hypotheticals: Whose speech is the frosted congratulations written on the cake? What if the baker refused to make a cake for the couple, but offered to sell them bear claws or cupcakes instead? What if she made a wedding cake, but refused to add a set of same-sex groom figurines? Eventually, R.D. convinces Diane participate in mock trial dealing with the issues through an anti-gay wedding planner. Ultimately, she wins (though R.D. decides to pursue the case anyway).
Criticism in response to the episode noted a lack of diversity within such a ham-fisted conversation about discrimination. "It all boils down to a lot of white people (and often, considering the show, with a disproportionate amount of men), sitting around a room and arguing about what’s best for the rest of the world," Libby Hill wrote in a review for Flavorwire. As Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya put it at the A.V. Club: "If I wanted to watch a bunch of rich, heterosexual, white people sit around and debate gay marriage and religious freedom based on the laws, I would go back to public policy school."
Nonetheless, an intellectualized version of the discussion offers up a concise means of reputing all the bigoted pizzeria and bakery owners of this world. You'll want to watch the episode in its entirety to breathe in Diane's brilliance as she elucidates an intelligent legal discourse about where religious freedom ends and discrimination begins.