Monday, June 4, 2018

It's not about the cake

The struggle LGBT people in America are engaged in for dignity and equal standing before the law slogs on, and there was another setback this morning in Trump’s America. The Supreme Court decided that a baker of cakes should have the right to refuse a gay couple a wedding cake on the grounds that his religion considers them sinners.

Between you and me, I don’t give a flying fart if a bicycle shop owner refuses to sell a bicycle chain to Episcopalians. OK, so somebody reads into his Bible a duty to withhold from gay people what he would not withhold from straight people. Wouldn't bother me all that much. I'd leave his shop, scatter a little salt on the doorstep and find another bicycle shop. Maybe send him a nasty note explaining that I'm not actually an Episcopalian. 

Seriously. It’s a new America. Gays are no longer pariahs and the majority of non-gay Americans have come to see gay people’s sexuality as simply evidence that sexuality is more complex than we thought it was in the days of Dick and Jane. Calling it a sin is the business of hypocrites, those who assume the right to throw the first stone.  Most Americans have no interest in the alleged sins of folk who commit no crimes and scare no horses.

OK, so this baker doesn’t want to bake me a cake. All he has to do, as far as I’m concerned, is say so and I’ll gladly take my business elsewhere. Who wants to risk a bigot who might spit into the batter before putting the cake in the oven, anyway?

I know, I know. It’s the principle of the thing. I live in San Francisco and it’s likely that most of the cakemakers are gay themselves or have a friend or loved one who is gay. But there are still places in this country where people live in towns without paved roads or running water, and it is a terrible inconvenience when a God-loves-my-sex-positions-but-not-yours type says, “No cake for you, Jack.” One of the guys in the Colorado case decided this morning, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, complained he felt like a second-class citizen. I’d like to pull him aside and try to persuade him that he needs to keep his eye on the donut and not the hole.  Remember, we can marry now! Stop fussing about the damned cake!

But that’s only how I would go about things. I also appreciate that the law has to protect all of us. And I need to recognize it's not the cake he's fussing about; it's the right to not be assigned to a class of persons one rolls into a ball and kicks down the stairs.

When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission took up the case before it went to the Supreme Court, one commissioner argued that

religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, including slavery and the Holocaust. “And to me,” the commissioner said, “it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others.”

Sounds like a factual reading of history to me. Who in his or her right mind has failed to take note of the evil done throughout the years in the name of religion?

Well, it turns out the Supremes don’t agree. Justice Kennedy, writing the majority opinion, found that this statement “disparages religion.”

Actually it doesn't. It disparages people who misuse religion. But so what if it did disparage religion?  What are we, Saudi Arabia?

This is an alarming turn of events. It suggests the possibility that all sorts of evil may be done in the name of religion in future cases. What’s next? No cakes for Jews? They killed Christ, according to some religious nuts.

If you read today’s decision carefully, you may argue that I’m worrying excessively. The court made a point of leaving open the question of just how much one may use religion to discriminate. They made a narrow decision – one that affects only this case. Next time it could still go either way. The wishy-wash allows the conservatives to call this a victory. It’s actually not, but things could get worse. There were two dissenters – RBG and Sotomayor. Imagine what will happen if RBG resigns while Trump and the Republicans are still in charge and we get yet another conservative on the bench. Next time, if the evangelicals are still calling the shots, it could go seriously downhill for LGBT people.

In the meantime, say a little prayer that Ruth Bader Ginsburg lives to 100 or more. She gave a strong dissent. Showing her usual talent for reducing complexity to language we can all understand, she summed it up like this: “Phillips (the baker) would not provide the same goods or service to a same-sex couple that he would provide to a heterosexual couple.”


Our Supreme Court depends on whether and how we all vote.

photo credit

P.S. And lest you think I'm developing a little gay paranoia here, check out who Trump just appointed to head the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (whatever that is). Old Gary "our rights were given by God, not Allah" Bauer.

Buckle up, folks, the road's gettin' bumpy.

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