The latest hot button issue in the gay rights movement is a piece of legislation in Arizona known as SB1062. Currently awaiting approval by Governor Jan Brewer, this bill would provide legal protection for business owners to deny service to individuals they perceive as homosexuals, as long as they are doing so on a purely religious basis. Not surprisingly, this has quickly become a hot-button issue with both social conservatives and LGBT rights advocates.
While the competing camps are quick to label such a bill as either ‘pro-religion’ or ‘anti-gay’, the reality is that both sides are arguing over the bounds of individual freedoms and at what point they no longer apply. Does one person’s right to refuse service trump another’s right to be gay?
The majority of Americans are now in favor of treating people equally without regard to their sexual preference. At the same time, they are also opposed to forcing business owners to act against their religious beliefs. When these two inherently conflicting points come together, there is a standoff like the one currently taking place in Arizona.
To take a closer look at this issue, let’s examine it from both perspectives – the gay community defending their rights, and the religious business owners who feel that their rights are being infringed on as well. Without deciding who is right or wrong in the debate, we’ll highlight the potential arguments that can be made from both sides.
Protecting Gay Rights
There is no doubt that gay rights have come a long way in just the past few years. In terms of governmental rights (i.e. gay marriage), the LGBT community has made tremendous progress toward the equality that they seek. However, this issue is different: gay rights proponents are now seeking the same legal protection from discrimination that is currently offered on the basis of gender, race, age, and religion. By their very definition, those laws have determined that the right of minorities to live and work comfortably trump a business owner’s prerogative to discriminate.
The argument here is that human rights should be universal, and religious beliefs should not be able to stand in the way of basic human protections. No matter how a business owner feels about the lifestyle of a customer, they should not have the right to discriminate against them and deny service simply because their religion disapproves of their sexual orientation. The gay rights community doesn’t see this as a compromising of the business owners rights – rather, it is viewed as equality for all.
Protecting Religious Freedoms
When two gay people are married legally, it doesn’t directly affect the rights of another. There are people who oppose gay marriage on religious or ethical beliefs, but the actual marriage itself is something which has no direct effect on them. Conversely, if that same person is a business owner, they may have to serve a gay customer regardless of where their beliefs may lie. In the eyes of the religious or socially conservative, this is forcing them to compromise their beliefs simply to stay in business.
The argument put forth by business owners and supporters of religious freedom is that they aren’t trying to infringe on the rights on another group – they’re simply trying to protect their right to chose who they let in their business. Being forced to do anything (such as serve a gay customer) seems to go against the American way, and take away the rights that so many people hold dear. If ones religious beliefs are not enough of a reason to deny service, then at what point are they protected? Is freedom of religion still a cause worthy of protection by the government?
There Is No Middle Ground
Ultimately, business owners forget that these same arguments were made in the last century by opponents of racial integration. Biblical interpretations against racial mingling were seen as insufficiently worthy of protection, as the cost of maintaining a segregated society in the face of determined was too high when confronted with determined opposition.
There is really no room for compromise on this issue. No solution exists between both groups that will satisfy all involved. No matter what the outcome is of the legislation that currently sits on the Governor’s desk, the debate is sure to rage on for years to come.
So where do you stand on this matter? Are the human rights of gay citizens enough to force all business owners to serve them, regardless of religious beliefs? Or should the business owner retain their right to refuse service and practice their religion on their own terms? For many people, this is a difficult issue to decide on. Both sides seem to have valid arguments, and both seem to be fighting for rights they have reason to protect. While the debate continues in Arizona for now, it seems that this issue is one sure to hit many other states across the U.S. in months and years to come.