Who’s Rights Should Prevail?
Consider these events: A wedding photographer in New Mexico refuses a job filming the commitment ceremony of two lesbians. A florist in the state of Washington declines to supply flowers for a same sex wedding and a bakery in Colorado refuses to cater a party celebrating the wedding of two gay men. In all three cases, the business owners said that their religious beliefs prevented them from supplying the requested services and, in all three cases, the owners were sued (Paulson and Santos, 2014).
Situations such as these have become more common as LGBT people have become more visible over the past several decades and they raise some important questions about civil liberties, freedom of choice, and discrimination. Which set of American values should take precedence in these cases? Those that require business owners to serve everyone, regardless of race, color, national origin, or creed? Or those that guarantee religious freedom? Should people be required to support, even indirectly, practices that they find personally offensive?
Before the passage of the Civil Rights law of 1964 (see Chapter 6), business owners in the South could refuse service to African Americans, consistent with the racist, Jim Crow laws of the day. Are the photographer, florist, and baker mentioned above practicing the same kind of discrimination? Or, were their acts justified by the demands of their religion? Do we need to balance the need for equal public treatment with the requirements of private moral codes?
The state legislature of Arizona became the focus for this debate when they passed a bill (SB 1062) in the spring of 2014. The bill would permit business owners to refuse service to LGBT people, as long as they were behaving “in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief.” The bill was eventually vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer, but not before it set off a wide-ranging and often emotional debate across the United States.
The readings for this debate begin with an article from the New York Times that provides an overview of the legislation and reactions from various groups and continues with an article from the National Journal comparing Arizona’s SB 1062 to segregation. We then consider an article defending the need for SB 1062 from the Christian Post and close with an editorial reconciling the legislation with support for marriage equality from Forbes Magazine.
POINTS OF VIEW
DEBATE QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
How convincing is the argument that compares SB 1062 to Jim Crow practices? What are the key differences and similarities?
One author argues that it’s important to prevent the government from forcing people to speak or act in violation of their religious or moral beliefs. Is this a fair characterization of the bill? Is it a convincing point? What if the moral beliefs in question came from an extremist organization that used religion to justify white supremacy?
How can support for marriage equality be reconciled with support for SB 1062? What logic does the author use to explain and justify his position?
After reading through the articles, make a list of the most important arguments for and against the legislation. Can you add your own arguments to either (or both) lists?
Finally, after considering all the pros and cons, what is your position in this debate? What is the single most important argument in support of your position?
(Optional) Search the Internet for updates on similar state legislation. Is SB 1062 truly dead or does it’s spirit survive?