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Why Do We Defend Discrimination?

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Last week the world learned about Pam Regentin, a baker in Oregon who refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple -- a blatant violation of state nondiscrimination law, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Ms. Regentin essentially claimed that her personal beliefs should trump the law, telling a reporter, "I believe I have the liberty to live by my principles."

In my op-ed about the Regentin fiasco for the Bilerico Project, I responded:

Actually, you don't... your religious beliefs do not entitle you to a special exemption from the law, nor do your "principles" give you the "liberty" to pick and choose which members of the public to serve or which laws you wish to obey.

As private individuals, you can believe whatever bigoted garbage you want in the privacy of your own heart and your own home. You can even pass that toxic hatred along to your children if you so choose. But if you choose to enter the public square, you have to play by the same rules as the rest of us.

Pretty simple, right? It seemed so to me, anyway. But I was dismayed to see how many people -- even members of the LGBT community -- disagreed. (Stockholm syndrome, anyone?)

"Maybe my religion isn't a reason for me to deny service to someone," one commenter wrote, "but the fact that it's MY [expletive] BUSINESS does. I have the right to refuse service to anyone, for any reason. Maybe it'll drive business away, maybe it won't. But as a business owner, IT'S MY [expletive] DECISION."

Said another, "Actually, as a lesbian who was legally married in California... and as an armed forces veteran and an American who strongly believes in the First Amendment, I don't have a problem with this business owner denying service to same-sex couples. It's the business owner's right -- if not legal, then moral -- to exercise her religious beliefs."

Hearing fellow members of the LGBT community stick up for bigoted business owners and provide excuses for our oppressors -- even those who break the law -- absolutely sickens me, and it should sicken you too.

Think about it: if a person's private convictions grant them a free pass to ignore laws forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, where does it stop? Shouldn't they be similarly free to ignore laws against discrimination on the basis of gender? Disability? What about religion or race? I mean, those black folks don't really need to eat at the same lunch counters as us white folk do, right? After all, they can always go to businesses that welcome their kind. And come to think of it, we don't need to welcome Jews into our neighborhoods -- they can live somewhere else, can't they?

Did that last paragraph make you cringe? If you're a decent human being, it should have. Yet both examples -- segregated lunch counters and housing discrimination against Jews -- represent a principle firmly held by a large segment of society less than one hundred years ago. Does the sincerity with which those beliefs were felt make them any less repulsive? Of course not. So why the rush to justify and defend those who demand that their anti-gay prejudice be accommodated? If you think there's a difference, then what you're saying is that homophobic bigotry is somehow nobler or more acceptable than racism and anti-Semitism. And that's appalling.

Racists and anti-Semites ultimately lost the fight on segregated lunch counters, housing discrimination, and civil rights for racial and religious minorities -- because we as a society decided that every person's right to be treated equitably in the public marketplace trumps an individual's private right to harbor hatred in their hearts. And even more importantly, we decided that nobody deserves a special right to ignore anti-discrimination laws.

Homophobes are fighting the same losing battle as their racist and anti-Semitic predecessors. Let's not forestall their failure -- and our equality -- by excusing their bigotry.

Adapted from a post at the Bilerico Project.