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Washington State GOP Wants to Protect (Some) Homophobia from Anti-Discrimination Lawsuits

I love it when people try to write Freedom to Discriminate into law. It’s so amusing to watch people tie themselves in knots.

Comes now before a court in Richland, Washington a certain lawsuit, and a number of GOP state legislators are so outraged that they have filed a bill to prevent such onerous lawsuits in the future:

Earlier this year, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against a florist who said that she could not supply flowers for a gay couple’s wedding “because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.”

In response, state Sen. Sharon Brown (R) and 11 other of the 23 Republicans in the Washington state Senate want to legalize discrimination against gay and lesbian couples with Senate Bill 5927. The measure goes far beyond religious exceptions, allowing business to discriminate based on “philosophical beliefs” or even “matters of conscience.”

Actually, that’s not quite right.

It’s not just any philosophical beliefs that would allow you to discriminate. According to the text of the bill in section 2, subsection (4), they have to be “sincerely held” beliefs:

Nothing in this section may burden a person or religious organization’s freedom of religion including, but not limited to, the right of an individual or entity to deny services if providing those goods or services would be contrary to the individual’s or entity owner’s sincerely held religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs, or matters of conscience. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief, philosophical belief, or matter of conscience may not be burdened unless the government proves that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest.

Emphasis added.

So if it’s only “sincerely held” beliefs that justify discrimination, I can just imagine the questioning in the courtroom as a lawyer for someone who has been discriminated against tries to explore those beliefs to see if they qualify for protection. Maybe it would go something like this . . .

* * *

Q: You’ve been a florist for many years?
A: That’s right.

Q: And your arrangements have been an expression of your religious beliefs for all that time?
A: That’s right.

Q: And you’ve made sure that you’ve never arranged flowers for a same-sex couple in all that time?
A: That’s right.

Q: Never sent flowers to a gay wedding?
A: That’s right.

Q: Never sent flowers to a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony?
A: Commitment ceremony? Well . . .

Q: Never sent flowers to a gay couple celebrating one of them getting a promotion?
A: Well . . .

Q: Never sent flowers to a lesbian couple celebrating their anniversary?
A: Ummm . . .

Q: Never sent flowers on behalf of a gay man, hoping to show his beloved how much he cares for him?
A: Ummm . . .

Q: Never sent flowers on behalf of a lesbian woman, as she declares her undying love for the object of her affection?
A: Ummm . . .

(The lawyer pauses, looks over to the jury, then back to the florist on the stand)

Q: Tell me: just how, exactly, do you determine whether a customer is worthy of your floral arranging gifts?
A: What do you mean?

Q: Can a woman send flowers to another woman whom she admires professionally?
A: Of course.

Q: Can a football quarterback send flowers to a lineman who protected him in the pocket?
A: Certainly.

Q: Can a woman in academia send a bouquet to a fellow scholar who has completed her dissertation?
A: Yes.

Q: Can a fireman sent a floral arrangement to another man who dragged him out of a burning building?
A: Absolutely.

Q: Can a gay man send flowers to his partner of 50 years?
A: Ummm . . .

(The lawyer pauses again, then continues)

Q: How, exactly, do you conduct your inquisition of your customers, in order to determine who is and is not worthy of a floral arrangement?
A: Ummm . . .

Q: Do you ask about sleeping arrangements?
A: No — that would be rude.

Q: Do you ask about joint bank accounts?
A: No.

Q: Do you ask about medical power of attorney?
A: No.

Q: Do you ask about wills?
A: No.

Q: Do you ask about joint parenting of children?
A: No.

Q: Do you ask about candlelight dinners?
A: Ummm . . .

Q: Do you ask if they gaze longingly into each others’ eyes?
A: Ummm . . .

Q: Do you ask about long slow deep wet kisses that last three days?
A: Oh, my.

Q: Tell me: where, exactly, do you draw the line and refuse to serve the customers that come into your store?
A: Ummm . . .

Q: How do you conduct your interrogation, to make sure that your customers measure up to your strict moral code?
A: Ummm . . .

Q: When a church orders a special “50th anniversary bouquet” in honor of two of their members, to put on the altar next Sunday morning, do you ask if the couple they are honoring is gay or lesbian?
A: Ummm . . .

Q: What, exactly, do you ask, so as to make sure you don’t inadvertently send flowers to a lesbian or gay couple?
A: Ummm . . .

Q: And do you conduct the interrogation before or after you cash their deposit check?
A: Ummm . . .

Defense attorney: Objection!

Plaintiff’s attorney: Your honor, I’m simply trying to see whether the defendant is sincere or not in her belief that gays and lesbians are worthy of discrimination . . .

* * *

Yeah, that would be some trial.

And it would be funny as all get out, except for the fact that we’re talking about people wanting to protect the so-called freedom to act hatefully in public accommodations. Sorry, but the mere fact that someone is sincere in their hatred of someone else doesn’t make it right, and certainly doesn’t make it worth protecting.

I can just hear the homophobic owner of a little diner telling a gay couple, “Sorry, but we don’t serve your kind. You can’t eat at my lunch counter.”

Maybe the GOP in the state of Washington would like to get out the fire hoses and police dogs to enforce this law they are proposing.


photo from a 2007 pride event in DC h/t to DoctorWho and used under Creative Commons 2.0.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.