Many of these state legislative proposals would go too far in granting religious exemptions, for instance by allowing government employees to deny their government services to same-sex couples.
According to a Get Equal press release:
Kansas House Bill 2453 (HB 2453) would have made it perfectly legal for private businesses and public employees to refuse service to anyone based on an individual’s “sincerely-held religious beliefs.” As a result, it would have given permission for a firefighter to refuse to extinguish a fire ravaging a gay couple’s home, or a police officer to refuse to help a Hindu mother, or a restaurant owner to refuse to serve a multi-racial family—all under the guise of “religious beliefs.”
But these measures wouldn’t be coming up, including one likely to become law in Arizona, if LGBT activists didn’t think it was a great idea to sue (or request that governments initiate lawsuits against) self-employed photographers, florists and bakers for not wanting to accept assignments celebrating same-sex weddings, such as decorating a wedding hall, or baking a cake with two grooms atop. That’s a small subset of activities that involve artistic or expressive services tied to same-sex marriage, and not equivalent to refusing service in a shop, say, to a gay couple.
I’ve addressed this topic often before (for instance, here and here) because I strongly believe that the activists’ tactics are a stark affront to personal liberty, a charge we usually are able to level at our opponents. But as in the past, this is an argument that statist progressives simply dismiss as if it is of no consequence. For them, it’s just a matter of whose got the power.
More. It helps to understand what proponents of these measures actually think, in contrast to the knee-jerk demonization that’s all over LGBT media right now. From National Review, Kevin D. Williamson makes the case for “religious freedom for the butcher and baker, not just the bishop.” Can’t say I disagree.
(But wait, If people are allowed to make these decisions for themselves, there will be ANARCHY! Sorry, I forgot. The state, under enlightened liberalism, always knows best, doesn’t it.)
I don’t support the Arizona measure, but I do believe certain activists have made it a point to find and force the tiny number of religiously conservative service providers who view same-sex weddings as objectionable, on religious grounds, to nevertheless provide services that celebrate their weddings. And this is the reaction: you reap what you sow. I also believe much of the response to these measures is political hysteria, as discussed here.
Still more. Jason Kuznicki posts on his facebook page:
I’m just vastly less worried by these sorts of laws than many others, I guess. It’s not the new Jim Crow. It’s a few dead-enders passing a largely symbolic law. These laws’ main effect will be to bankrupt a small number of businesses, who will make themselves into pariahs. As applied to state workers, they are clearly unconstitutional if Romer is applied.
That’s how I feel, too.
Furthermore. It now looks like Arizona’s GOP Gov. Jane Brewer will veto the measure [yes, vetoed on 2/26], as even some Republican legislators who voted for it have changed their minds in the wake of a massive media blitz that defined the legislation as a pro-gay discrimination bill (with apparently unlimited scope!) and not a religious-conscience exemption bill.
Walter Olson shares his thoughts on the Arizona measure:
To confess my biases, as a general matter I like the idea of affording wider religious-liberty defenses in most anti-discrimination statutes applying to private actors. At the same time, doing it this way—by pushing out the boundaries of RFRA to change the playing field of private litigation at one stroke, rather than pause for a debate about how best to address multiple areas and situations—strikes me as fairly sure to generate unintended consequences and unexpected results.
His Cato colleague Ilya Shapiro differs somewhat:
While governments have the duty to treat everyone equally under the law, private individuals should be able to make their own decisions on whom to do business with and how – on religious or any other grounds. Those who disagree can take their custom elsewhere and encourage others to do the same.