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How Is Discrimination a Religious Freedom?

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J. Stephen Conn/Flickr
J. Stephen Conn/Flickr

It appears that Kansas House Bill 2453 is dead. This is the bill that stated, in part, that "if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs" of a person or a business, then that person or business may refuse to "[p]rovide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement." Last week the Kansas House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of this bill, but the State Senate is not picking it up. For the time being, the legalization of discrimination in Kansas is on hold. That is good, but the alarming part of the initial success of this bill is the fact that discrimination was viewed as a religious right by a majority of state leaders. This argument for legitimate discrimination is not confined to Kansas representatives. It is used again and again in other states to allow a baker or a photographer or a court clerk to refuse to serve a couple that they perceive as homosexual.

This raises the question: How is discriminating against me your religious freedom?

If you are a baker who believes that homosexuality is an abomination, and I want to buy a cake from you for my same-sex wedding, am I stopping you from believing what you believe? Does your Bible say, "Thou shalt not serve cakes to men who lie with men"? If it did, then I could understand that your religion forbids same-sex cake selling. If your Bible stated, "Baking for gay sinners is an abomination," then I could see how your religious beliefs would bar you from baking me a cake. But your Bible does not say any of those things. You can sell me a cake, and you can continue to believe that homosexuality is a sin. That is your right. You can sell me a cake and still go to your church and pray for the elimination of homosexuality. That is your right. And that right has not been infringed upon. No one is stopping you from believing that homosexuality is wrong just because you bake a gay wedding cake.

If you are a photographer and you take pictures at my wedding, you continue to have the right to believe that my marriage is wrong. You can continue to teach your children that being gay is a sin. You are able to go to your place of worship and preach against the evils of homosexuality. Those religious freedoms are still in place.

If you are a county clerk and your state permits same-sex couples to gain a marriage license, you can still believe that homosexuality is a terrible, awful scourge against society. That is your right.

But if you refuse to give me and my husband a marriage license -- or sell us a cake or take our photos -- then you are infringing on our right to be treated equally as United States citizens. We are not infringing on your rights. Yours are still intact. Ours are being denied.

And, for a moment, let us say that your campaign of discrimination is successful. Imagine that all people in all restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts and dry-cleaners refuse to serve gays on religious grounds. What then? What are the gay people supposed to do? We can't go shopping? We can't eat food prepared by other people? We can't use the court system? Where does it stop? Must gay people band together and move to some destination far away? Must we grow our own food, make our own clothing, serve only ourselves? Must we segregate?

Our country tried segregation once before. It didn't work out so great.

Admittedly, I am no expert on the Bible. But I feel secure in saying that those Christian fanatics who believe that discrimination is part of their religion are not reading their Bibles very carefully. Jesus taught about love and acceptance. He did not discriminate. I know that these folks believe that the Bible preaches that homosexuality is an abomination. But where does it say you must refuse services, good, privileges, etc., to gay people?