Culture Conflicts: Discrimination? Jan Brewer and the ‘anti-gay’ bill

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer

In the fall of this past year, the community I live in passed a ‘human rights’ ordinance.  It gave legal protections in the community for housing and employment and private business services for a wide range of individuals.  Protected in this ordinance are people of ‘actual or perceived’ race, gender, sexuality, age, marital status, religious affiliation (or lack there-of), employment status, income source, care giver status, handicap, pregnancy, weight, height, etc. (I believe it was city ordinance 777)  Some poorly worded exemptions were included to, in theory, protect the high school from litigation if it did not provide transgendered changing facilities, owner occupied structures with a room for rent, churches with respect to ‘sacerdotal function’ (but not specifically ‘secular’ activities like church-based school teachers, administrators or custodians) and a number of other items.  The ordinance was introduced under the guise of ‘extra business’ so as not to appear on the public posting of the agenda.  Public record of the activity before the ordinance’s ‘second reading’ were not to be found in their normal places (though technically, they were published).  A concerned friend informed me about an hour or so before the city council meeting that the ordinance would be given a second reading with an opportunity given for public comment.  I was asked if I would go and ‘say something.’  So, I went home, cleaned up, put on the coat and tie and made my way to city hall with but the length of the meeting to read the proposed ordinance and figure out what to say (fortunately, comments came at the end of the meeting).  There were the only two people present with anything to add in the public comments time (my friend and I).  The bill had already been read a second time and voted in (3-2 or 4-3 or some such thing) before we were given opportunity to speak.  No response was made to any of the questions raised (although meeting protocol demanded it).  The exercise seemed rather pointless.  Nonetheless, I spoke on the record with no time to prepare a statement.

Honestly, I found myself rather torn.  I actually supported most of the objectives of the ordinance – so long as there are no crimes being committed, all people in a free society should be able to work, live, and conduct business without harassment – the church never wins in a free democracy by waging war on this front.  What concerned me was the potpourri of issues that were thrown together (I believe white, middle-aged, heterosexual, Christian men were the only category left out – I only wish I were joking) and the hodgepodge list of protected exemptions.  In short, the intent of the ordinance may well have been good, but it was a horrendously crafted piece of legislation leaving both the City, several leading community groups, and enormous segments of the city’s residents unnecessarily exposed to litigation.  My then 17-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter later read a copy of the ordinance, laughed, and asked if this was ‘for real.’  My son thought his previous year’s AP Government class could have easily crafted a better ordinance, but I digress.  Like me, both supported the intent of the legislation but recognized on their own that in a rush to ‘pass something’ the city ended up settling for a garbage ordinance.

As I stood before the Council, I commended their desire to acknowledge the dignity of all who would want to live and work in our community.  I concurred, so far as it stated, the protected elements in the bill.  I expressed concern that as crafted, this bill would expose many of the churches in the community to litigation if they ever needed to hire outside of their congregation (teachers, office workers, custodians, etc.).  I expressed that it exposed many of its residents to similar litigation concerns – especially those who ran small personal businesses (photographers, videographers, scrap-bookers and the like), frequently out of their homes.  I referred generally to some cases I had heard about in other towns after similar legislation was passed.  I imagined, hypothetically, what could happen in the face of such an ordinance.  Then I met ‘Jay’ (not his real name – but the story I’m about to relate actually occurred and occurred while living in a different community).

Jay is a devout Christian.  Like many conservative Christians, he doesn’t see a difference between his ‘church life’ and the rest of life.  For many devout Christians there is no separation between ‘secular’ and ‘sacred.’  The claims of Christ extend to every area of life.  Like many other Christians I know, Jay advertised his home based videography business online and dubbed himself a ‘Christian videographer.’  (Note – I’m not sure what the difference is between a Christian videographer and any other videographer, or if that’s even a distinction worth promoting, but to Jay it was – and after speaking with him, I believe his intentions to have been sincere, though perhaps misguided.)  One day, Jay received a call to record a civil ceremony formalizing the union of a gay couple.  Jay indicated that he couldn’t as he had a previous engagement, but recommended a couple other videographers in the area.  The couple stated that they had seen samples of his work online and insisted that they only wanted him to do it and suggested another couple dates.  Jay finally responded that while they seemed to be nice enough guys, he didn’t feel comfortable participating in a ‘gay wedding’ because of his faith.  In the face of an impending lawsuit, Jay was forced to close his very small business and move as his only means to protect what few assets he had and look for work elsewhere.

Now, I don’t want to suggest that every sincere Christian should have come to the same conclusion that Jay did.  I know some who would have taken the job, done exemplary work, treated the couple with the utmost respect, and used the opportunity to plant seeds that might have later served to help the couple see the church, and by extension, Christ, in a new and better light (stranger things have happened).  I might even have suggested that Jay do just that, had I been his pastor when he faced this situation.  But that’s not the point.  In talking with Jay, he like many Christians I know, harbor no ill toward homosexuals as individuals.  They disagree (sometimes very strongly) with the lifestyle (chosen or otherwise) and feel that the full and free expression of their faith prohibits them from appearing to sanction the lifestyle.  Most of these people would decline to work at a Muslim or Hindu wedding ceremony – they just wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it, nothing more.  While Jay could have made a few decisions that would have prevented any of this, the fact is, Jay – and people like him – become easy targets for those more concerned with pushing an agenda and forcing universal acceptance than living respectfully as neighbors in a truly free and pluralistic community.

Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer, faces a difficult decision.  A clearly agenda driven media blitz has labeled the legislation she is considering as simply ‘anti-gay’ (it doesn’t help that she’s a Republican – for the record, I find myself criticizing both major parties pretty regularly).  I haven’t read the fine print of the legislation.  I don’t know if it’s truly good legislation or simply another well-intentioned, but poorly executed piece of garbage like the one my community leaders passed in virtual secrecy.  On the surface, it seems like it’s intent is to both acknowledge the rights of gay citizens to live, work, and conduct business while also recognizing that there are sincere, well-meaning people of faith – like Jay – who cannot in good conscience participate in a gay ceremony and should not be criminalized for that alone.  Unfortunately, just as there are wolves hiding in the fold of the church who cannot and will not be satisfied until everyone thinks and acts like them, there are militant voices in our culture who won’t be satisfied until every semblance of faith is publicly discredited and removed from any and all aspects of public life.  It seems neither are fit for life in a free and open society.

– Pastor Jim Kushner

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11 thoughts on “Culture Conflicts: Discrimination? Jan Brewer and the ‘anti-gay’ bill”

  1. It is very wide legislation, and I think poorly drafted: Arizona “Act relating to the free exercise of religion”. It says you may do what you like if you claim it is religious:

    Exercise of religion” means the PRACTICE OR OBSERVANCE OF RELIGION, INCLUDING THE ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.

    41-1493.01 Free exercise of religion protected; definition

    A. Free exercise of religion is a fundamental right that applies in this state even if laws, rules or other government actions are facially neutral.

    B. Except as provided in subsection C, government OF THIS SECTION, STATE ACTION shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.

    C. Government STATE ACTION may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it THE OPPOSING PARTY demonstrates that application of the burden to the person PERSON’S EXERCISE OF RELIGION IN THIS PARTICULAR INSTANCE is both:

    1. In furtherance of a compelling governmental interest.

    2. The least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

    D. A person whose religious exercise is burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding, and obtain appropriate relief against a government REGARDLESS OF WHETHER THE GOVERNMENT IS A PARTY TO THE PROCEEDING. THE PERSON ASSERTING SUCH A CLAIM OR DEFENSE MAY OBTAIN APPROPRIATE RELIEF.
    A party who prevails in any action to enforce this article against a government shall recover attorney fees and costs.

    It could mean not serving women who were not “modestly” dressed.

    The other possibility of the Christian videographer videoing the gay wedding is that he might see how ordinary the couple were, and stop opposing gay marriage.

  2. It’s very important to acknowledge the nuances as you have here- but, I have trouble with these issues. I can’t really foresee a situation when I would be so ungraceful as to turn someone away from my business and say ‘I don’t to business with people of your kind’. There’s something a bit grotesque about that.
    Lincoln’s letter to Joshua Speed comes to mind: “How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favour of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

    My reading is that the (American) law has always implied, if not stated outright, the equality and dignity of all citizens. If those notions were clarified, no new legislation would be required. What needs to be established is where the rights of one citizen end and those of another begin. It shouldn’t be too complicated to draw those lines.

    We would be forced to make certain distinctions (which could seem somewhat arbitrary) of what is (or could be considered) a genuine moral dilemma. That being the case, I don’t think it’s viable to allow ‘walk-in’ businesses such as restaurants, bakeries, gas-stations, shops etc to ban classes of clients. No cakes for interracial couples, or Hindus, or Protestants, crosses the line. Does it not? After all, no ‘extra’ effort is required by the service/product provider. How does one then create the exception to be fair and legal?

    What types of businesses require the purveyors to genuinely compromise their private beliefs? Can a photographer just refuse a gay wedding, or can he also refuse to photograph a model he knows is gay? The best way to neutralize bad thinking is to counter it with a better, clearer model. So how would you word/define the rights and obligations of so all can co-exist with a measure of respect and dignity?

  3. Thanks Clare, important information. I’ll need to read more closely and consider its implications.
    The other possibility of the Christian videographer videoing the gay wedding is that he might see how ordinary the couple were, and stop opposing gay marriage Agreed, that is another possibility and a legitimate outcome (though one many may disagree with, I simply mentioned the other as one a conservative Christian might identify with and embrace) in a free society.

    Without getting into the details of the legislation at this point, my understanding and application of Christian thought would include the following:
    –> Christians should expect that there will be challenges to their beliefs and practices which could lead to simple disagreement, to uncomfortable situations, to denial of rights (which does occur, even in the U.S.), to outright persecution (something that does not presently exist in the West, nor do I anticipate anytime in the near future). It doesn’t mean that there’s never a place to push back in a civil manner, but one should not be surprised.
    –> Much of the ‘protection of religion’ statutes is a consequence of the decades long European wars and institutionalized religious persecutions present in many (not all) cities and countries with official state religions. Its something of great historic importance that should be considered today but may not have the same level of direct application.
    –> In the very few instances where there is not a legitimate third option that protects the interests of all parties (a rarity), I would say its the Christian’s obligation to surrender their ‘right,’ go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, endure suffering with patience, etc. (that may or may not be the case in this instance, not that there is really any suffering endured for a Christian to extend civil equality even if they publicly oppose the practice and do not sanction it within).

  4. Good points, ‘pink,’ I don’t disagree with your concerns. Nor do I (at this point) have a better wording – perhaps in time I’ll get ‘inspired’ (I don’t mean to make light of the issue). Its my hope that honest dialogue in forums like this can help lead to a better model and better thinking (I often use this platform to simply think out loud, I welcome and value feedback – I’ve found our conversations helpful). I would not equate sexual expression/preference (I know this wording will cause a stir) with physical ‘male/female’ skin color, nation of origin – nor would I equate homosexuality with pedophilia (as many do), one involves consenting adults, the other minors without the legal ability (or possibly developmental capacity) to give consent, these are not the same. As I mentioned indirectly to Clare, and in the post, I think in general Christians do need to creatively rethink the application of their convictions (somewhat different than fundamental beliefs) as part of the privilege (and great benefit) of living in a free society. Likewise, as I mentioned in an earlier conversation, I think ‘holistic’ approaches/services (various forms of private schooling, medicine, religion/faith/spiritual expression) deserve a degree of protection with regard to hiring, the application of their particular approach to a matter, or the performing of rituals (so long as there aren’t things like criminal abuse of another person or criminal negligence or proven public safety issues). Perhaps I empathize with the struggle sincere people of faith deal with in reconciling long-held convictions in the midst of a changing culture – or when being unnecessarily targeted (I admit to being conditioned to hear their notes in the song, while remaining rather tone-deaf with respect to the notes of others – conversations like this are helpful in that regard). This doesn’t excuse treating others poorly, though. It would be my hope, in a free society, that those on both sides of an issue can appreciate the difficulty a particular solution poses to another and extend a degree grace and not demonize nor marginalize nor unnecessarily criminalize – especially when perfect solutions are often difficult, if not impossible, to come by (perhaps the hope is too much, I know its difficult for many fellow Christians, and we’re commanded to do so). Thanks again for your thoughts.

  5. “I would not equate sexual expression/preference (I know this wording will cause a stir) with physical ‘male/female’ skin color, nation of origin – nor would I equate homosexuality with pedophilia (as many do)”- You don’t have to because the issue of it being a choice is really a moot point.
    The fact is that however it comes about, it’s a characteristic that’s inherent to the individual. It’s part of one’s constitution. Sexual attraction is something one discovers rather than plans. There’s an environmental/cultural degree which influences this for all people- just note the differences in cultures for the predilections or focus on certain body parts/types. In parts of Africa a large bottom is very prized, in North America the focus tends to be on the bosom. Brazilian men have their own model which includes a medium-large (high) bottom and a mid-sized bust.
    In the end these ‘desires’ are there, and they’re part of one’s identity. Can you imagine an African minister arriving in America and proposing that sexual interest in breasts is wrong? That the natural focus should be on the bottom, because, let’s say, that represents fertility and the ability to better bear children?

    Ideally we should be able to better discern what is genuinely of private vs. personal vs. public concern.

  6. Agreed, ‘pink,’ origin and equating is moot. However, the point at which one enters a discussion has everything to do with where one stands. I find that the issues many in my circles consider important will be irrelevant to others, and vice-versa, but its the stuff one addresses, whether truly essential or not. Also, I would agree that attraction is largely discovered and involves a fair amount of cultural conditioning. However, the fact that something is inherent to one’s constitution does not preclude us from placing demands on it (though we may well argue whether or not that is a good idea). If I find myself absently gazing upon what I perceive to be a beautiful female co-worker sitting across the office from me, and she feels uncomfortable with my gaze, I will likely be confronted, told to stop looking her way and/or possibly find myself the subject of a sexual harassment suit (or depending on the relative office rank involved – sexual discrimination suit). The fact that I had neither said nor done anything more will not likely change the outcome if she is motivated to make a point. Of course, if the woman enjoys the attention, perhaps I have a date for dinner – hypothetically speaking, of course – I’m a happily married man. Of course, back in the day, even if all women wore the burqa, I’d likely find myself infatuated with a hand or eye, but I admit to perhaps having been especially depraved by nature. Perhaps even in the face of legitimately serious issues, we take ourselves and others a bit too seriously.

  7. What types of businesses require the purveyors to genuinely compromise their private beliefs? Can a photographer just refuse a gay wedding, or can he also refuse to photograph a model he knows is gay? There’s a lot in your comments I’m still sifting through. Don’t know that I’ll have well thought responses (if any) to all. They are legit issues and the practical workings of any legislation in this kind of matter will have messy details to sort out, from both sides of the issue. For drop by businesses like the kind you mentioned in the previous paragraph, there’s no compelling compromise – the most that’s usually required is a delivery of the material to a given place at a given time. There are potentially issues for jobs that require someone to be physically present in a personally uncomfortable situation in order to perform the service (videography, photography, acting, modeling come to mind). Plenty of performing artists and models say ‘no’ to nude and sexually explicit material (or even ‘immodest’ costumes) simply because they are uncomfortable with it. They understand that means they may miss out on certain gigs. If they have sufficient pull, the gig accommodates them. Likewise for those who make their living on the other side of a camera – there may not be a lot of photographers who say ‘no’ to capturing ‘explicit’ footage of one type or another, but they exist. The client finds another camera guy/gal. If there is no ‘explicit’ footage (sexual, violent, etc.), no photographer I know would decline the job – nor should they – on other grounds (barring personal safety concerns). Would I feel uncomfortable recording a gay ceremony? I don’t know, probably. Should I feel uncomfortable? I don’t know – I feel all sorts of ways for all sorts of reasons, some legit, some not – I’m not sure anyone can really tell me how I ought to feel. Most of the time I’m able to overcome my discomfort and do what I must. In the end, I would probably film the event – but I’m not comfortable with forcing everyone to cross that line. Doing so will likely have the unintended consequence of compromising the quality of the work being requested, at the very least. Should I be compelled to be at an event I’m not comfortable with? After thought, I may well decide that I should stretch myself, but compulsion in these kinds of situations rarely work out well for anyone. Would I attend gay wedding as a spectator? Yes, if I knew one of the parties well, though I would still feel uncomfortable. Would I perform the ceremony? No, I wouldn’t – but I may well defend the couple’s right to be have a civil or some other ceremony that the state recognizes. Should a woman model be required to work with whatever photographer the gig provides – even if she’s not comfortable with the individual? In the end, the last answer probably depends on how much star power the model has, but in principle … Should a photographer who is a neo-Nazi be forced to work a Jewish wedding? Well, maybe, but I’m not sure why the couple would want to hire the individual in the first place – unless they were bent on making a point, in which case, it’s not really about the photography or the event, is it? Should a photographer who is a black American be required to work the wedding between two known KKK families? I know my examples are extreme, but if there’s going to be legislation along these lines, one doesn’t have to get too creative to imagine the kinds of exceptions one might need to consider and working those things out legislatively will likely get pretty messy – but it probably needs to be done as blanket policies along these lines (at least in the States) will not likely be tolerated. I don’t know if it does so well (I haven’t thought through the material Clare sent carefully), but on the surface the above mentioned situations are the kinds of things that the Arizona legislation is trying to address, but it may very well need reworking. In the end, however, there are indeed very few jobs that are an imposition to the service provider at any real level, except for the kinds of things I’ve just discussed – most of which require close personal participation in what might be reasonably understood as an uncomfortable environment for that individual to work in.

  8. Perhaps extreme, but everything you say makes sense. I’m taking advantage here. I decided you’d be a good person to hammer out the details, then I can just pretend I was part of the process of formulating a good idea :)
    So how exactly would you word this in specific terms?

  9. Thanks again, Clare, for sending the link and info. Your’re right, this is a poorly drafted bill. I’m glad that Governor Brewer vetoed it. It appears to be just another knee-jerk reaction on the part of some individuals who are nervous about the change in culture. In the vast majority of cases, there should be no legitimate issues for even conservative people of faith. I still have concerns for individuals whose jobs would then force them to be present in an environment that feels uncomfortable for them – and the concerns extend beyond merely religious considerations. On the surface it may not seem like a huge deal, but I encourage you to look at the discussion ‘pink’ and I have had on this thread. While some of the situations are admittedly extreme, they strike me as the kinds of concerns that have to be considered in order to smooth the edges of blanket legislation of this sort. I’d like to think its doable, but clearly not an easy task.

  10. I read it. Thank you.

    Hard cases make bad law. The case which I think most objectionable, from the Conservative’s point of view, is the wedding photographer. He might envision something like the drunken party after a pride parade. However the gay weddings (church blessings with no legal effect) I have been to have been decorous affairs. People want their wedding to be a celebration, and that involves standards. You will see gay kissing, but nothing “worse” than that- and if you do, the general law protects you. Go, meet the people, practise your art and create something beautiful. They will think of you well. As Rachel Held Evans writes, go the extra mile.

    Making a cake does not support the wedding. It just doesn’t. Horrible, nasty people get married and have cakes, and the cake-makers do not show approval of them.

    I don’t like the term “homosexual activists”. At worst there might be people looking around for Christian businesses to pick off, using equalities legislation, but more likely there are ordinary decent people so fed up with being bullied that they exercise the rights more civilised places give them.

    I have sympathy for the distress the Conservative feels. But I feel that he benefits from seeing the world in a new way.

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