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Denying Service to Gays and Lesbians: Right of Conscience Vigilantism Meets Stand Your Ground

| February 28, 2014

(© Cagle Cartoons)

(© Cagle Cartoons)

If a Muslim fundamentalist with a dim bulb in place of a business sense owned a car dealership in our lovely little American town, he could make the argument that it’s against his religion to sell a car to a woman, on the pretense that women should not drive. I don’t know what would give him whiplash first, the lawsuit he’d lose or the speed of the rail running him out of town.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive Yet the very same people who’d call a fatwa on the dealer’s head have no problem adopting his faith-based reasoning when it suits their own bigoted ends. That’s how we end up with lawmakers in four states passing bills that would give business owners the “right” to deny service to gays and lesbians, on grounds that it’d be against the business owners’ religion to be accommodating.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer had little choice this week but to veto a bill that would have given business owners that “right.” Not because Mitt Romney, John McCain, Rick Scott and a slew of other Republicans panicking about what the bill is doing to the Republican brand asked her to veto it. But because the NFL, that beacon of gay, lesbian and transgender rights for about, oh, a week or two, risked pulling the 2015 Super Bowl out of the state if the bill became law.

That’s not something the governors of Missouri and Georgia have to worry about. Similar bills may well become law there. And you never know what the Arizona legislature will do after cashing in on the Super Bowl. Jan Brewer had no problem signing into law the nation’s most fascist-scented measure against undocumented immigrants in 2010, turning any brown skin into a criminal until proven innocent. The Supreme Court struck down most of that state-sponsored racism. But her successor may well be salivating at the prospect of reducing gays and lesbians to second-class citizenship status, in accordance with precepts of Republican bile hiding behind the Bible.

The bills are inspired by a relatively new perversion in American politics: the exploitation of religion as an excuse to discriminate, to humiliate and to demean other human beings. It began about a decade ago when the religious right figured out that it could turn out its most reactionary voters by stuffing ballots with gay marriage bans. It worked. The bigots came out, passed ban after ban, including in Florida, and elected herds of Republicans along the way. When Obamacare became law the religious brigades thought they could eviscerate it by challenging the requirement that contraceptives be part of all health plans. The Catholic Church led that campaign, because it had the added benefit of discriminating against women, a Catholic reflex almost as old as promiscuous priests. The business bigotry bills in Arizona, Missouri, Georgia and Kansas are the latest mutation of that viral need to calibrate one’s beliefs in proportion to the degradation of others.

All this in the supposed name of a god the Jesus Christ of the Sermon on the Mount would have a hard time recognizing. That’s probably because that god has more in common with the one the Taliban worships than do most people who understand what it means to be a Christian, or at least an American. The oppression of homosexuals is a trademark of the world’s most regressive regimes, and not just in the Islamic world’s black hole of human rights. We just got done pretending to be incensed by Russia’s legalized assaults on homosexuals. Let’s not be so accommodating of identical assaults in the United States.


The Bill of Rights should be a protection. Instead, it’s being used to justify the assaults. It’s how personal rights are degrading into vigilantism. We’re seeing it with the Second Amendment. The indisputable right to bear arms has become, in Stand Your Ground perversions, the indisputable right to take the law into one’s own hands, to shoot first and ask questions maybe never. The First Amendment’s right of conscience is similarly being distorted into a “right” to oppress. It isn’t enough personally to believe. You must impose that personal belief on others and demand legal cover for the imposition, as if there were no distinctions between private and public conscience. That’s where peddlers of such rights show their impaired reading of the Bill of Rights.

Private businesses and churches claim that they should be free to do what they like, in accordance with their conscience. Absolutely. They can do to themselves whatever they please. They can use both hands if they like. But the moment their doings cross into public realms, all bets are off. If you don’t want to serve gays and lesbians, don’t be in the service industry. If you don’t want to touch pork or booze, don’t be a waiter at a sports bar. If you don’t want to provide contraception to women, don’t run the sort of organization that employs women. You have a right of conscience. You don’t have a right to impose that conscience on others. Otherwise we might as well be back to the days when private bus companies could relegate blacks to the back of the bus, shops could deny service to Jews, and country clubs could be redoubts of white Protestant “purity.”

Back then the more daring of the ruffians claimed that white supremacy was part of god’s plan, and they too called it their free exercise of religion. Maybe that’s something a minority of bigots among us are nostalgic for. But the moment any belief validates itself by degrading others, it is no longer about the right of conscience. It’s about hatred and the desire to spew it with the force of law. It’s about the unconscionable. We are not that country. Not anymore, anyway.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here. A version of this piece was broadcast on WNZF.

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30 Responses for “Denying Service to Gays and Lesbians: Right of Conscience Vigilantism Meets Stand Your Ground”

  1. Mary Cannady says:

    Using the logic of business owners using their religion to deny service to gays and lesbians, how about adulterers and fornicators? Or the lustful neighbor? Or a customer who is not respectful (honor) of their parent? Are they going to deny them service? They may as well sell the business due to lack of customers.

  2. ted says:

    its your business, deny whoever you want, whenever you want..PERIOD..

  3. confidential says:

    The pressure from the NFL (they were to hold the Super Bowl there in Glendale AZ next year) from corporations like Apple, Intel and many more forced Governor Brandywine, Brewer to veto that bigot bill. Lets stick together and will defeat conservative extremism so damaging to us all in America “Home of the Brave and Land of the Free with “Justice and Liberty for all”. So often forgotten.

  4. orphan says:

    god bless you, Pierre.
    What a super blog this post is!
    wow.

  5. palm coast says:

    It is so sad to see that people want to find ways to not have to serve or help others. If we all treated each others as we like to be treated, the world would be a MUCH better place.

  6. please tell me says:

    so if a gay male wants to use a woman’s restroom should he be able to? Or would you accommodate if they insisted on coming into your business requesting to do so? How about if one commits a crime should a male be housed with females because he’s feminine or a female with males because she’s masculine. How come it’s ok for the LGBT community to announce every demand they want, but a person who finds themselves caught in the crossfire even without being disrespectful is supposed to keep their feelings to themselves if they don’t agree. This is not civil rights. If I as a man strutted the streets proclaiming I’m heterosexual at every turn and raged at the establishments stating gays aren’t respecting my rights as a man would I be wrong?

    • A.S.F. says:

      @please tell me says–As to your last question, please re-read your entire post. That IS what you are doing.

    • Nancy N. says:

      The mere wording of your question reveals you know nothing about LGBT people. “Gay men” don’t ask to use women’s restrooms or be housed with females in jails. Transgender people are the ones who have to deal with those issues, when their legal gender doesn’t match the match the gender they identify with.

      And in any case – this law had nothing to do with restrooms or jail housing – those issues had nothing to do with the Arizona legislation. The Arizona legislation had to do with being able to refuse to sell someone a cup of coffee because you identified them as gay when they entered your establishment.

      When you are the privileged elite, raging that the establishment isn’t respecting your rights is ridiculous, yes. LGBT people aren’t asking for special rights – they are asking for the same ones you have, things you take for granted and probably don’t even think about that are denied to millions of people in this country. That IS civil rights.

    • The Truth says:

      This is a very flawed post. The LGBT community “demanding” to be treated equally is not anything like what you’ve explained. Your comparison of a male using a female restroom is utterly ridiculous.

      This is about treating people with respect. Denying someone a service that you provide due to you not agreeing with their lifestyle is disgusting and will never allow our country to move past our hatred towards eachother.

  7. A.S.F. says:

    This has nothing to do with “Stand Your Ground”, which is being used nowadays as a catch phrase for “I can do anything I feel like doing to anyone I feel is different and a threat to me.” Denying service to a person on the basis of their sexual orientation is just as heinous as denying service to someone on the basis of race, religion, sex or age. And people who are ignorant enough to try to use the Christian religion as a basis for their bigoted behavior need to read their bibles more carefully and/ or stop listening to religious/political “leaders” who might as well be biting off the heads of chickens, in terms of THEIR spiritual development.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Another tainted devious article from the twisted mind of Pierre Tristam.

    • AmericaTrendingDown says:

      I can see it now, the same people who disagree with this article and agree with the bill will form their own “Taliban” fighting us real Americans.

      • Reaganomicon says:

        Which will be populated by hundreds of diabetic, fat old men riding tea party stickered mobility scooters.

    • The Truth says:

      A tainted and devious article that you came here to read. The purpose of an opinion article like this is to spark conversation. It seems those on the right will spew hatred if anyone doesn’t agree with them.

  9. THE VOICE OF REASON says:

    I don’t often agree with you, but this is spot on.

    My Bible says hate the sin, not the sinner.

  10. Karen P says:

    Pierre you begin your dialogue with an example of a Muslim refusing to engage in the sale of a car to a woman. Not a good comparison. Everyone is born with certain identifiable physical traits – male/female, colored/caucasian, etc. Being gay is not a personal physical trait any more than being under dressed or obnoxious. Refusing to serve a person who is gay is a liberty, that while bigoted and shameful, should be allowed. And just to throw it out there – I don’t think women driving would be against the Muslim religion so much as being a woman and doing anything business related in general is intolerable to those of the Muslim faith. So the choice would be not to sell to a woman…in a country where women engaging in that sort of activity is a protected right…so yes, the Muslim car dealership owner would be run out or sued…but based on not selling to a woman, not because he didn’t want her to drive. So you see, just because a person is “born gay” doesn’t mean it should be a protected defining feature of that person. Otherwise, you would have to make laws to protect murderers buying guns, child molesters walking on school grounds, fat girls working in the modeling industry. Everyone has a line….some religious people draw theirs at being gay. Other people draw it at incest. Still others at pedophilia. AND SO ON, right on down to the scummy derelicts that want to tolerate EVERYTHING.,,just because. Everyone’s line should be protected…if its not a physical attribute line. Business owners have the right to refuse service – period. And now it’s written into the law as it should be. Thankfully the religion card was played well this hand.

    • A.S.F. says:

      Karen P says–Au contraire! MANY enlightened people would argue with your statement that being Gay “is not a personal physical trait any more than being under dressed or obnoxious.” Actually, a lot of people would find THAT particular remark pretty “obnoxious”–as well as just plain false. Keep comparing Gay people to “scummy derelicts.” I think, sadly, that It says a lot more about you than it does about them.

    • Josef K says:

      Pierre, No business should have to serve customers they don’t want to, If dirty smelly people come into Photographer’s Shop and want to have a family photo, that business owner should and does have the right to deny service without explanation. To multitudes of Bible Believing Christians being a Sodomite is morally repugnant, vile, and called an abomination by the Bible, no business owner should have to serve people they choose not to, for any reason, in doing so they choose to turn away a sale, they lose the money, and risk alienating a certain segment of society which could really impact them financially, but the choice to serve customers is up to the business, they will bear the consequences of turning away green money. No shirt, no shoes, no service. Pierre, most business never turn away any business, but businesses have the right to send business away, and they do not need to explain themselves, this is America. We are free to do business with whom we choose, and not to do business with whom we don’t choose. Period.

      • A.S.F. says:

        @Josef K says–What about that part of the Christian bible where it says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” or the part where Jesus talks about removing the beam from your own eye before concerning yourself so much with the speck in another’s? You can cherry-pick the bible all you want but it comes down to this: Some people feel that they have a right to discriminate against, and even harm, others, who live, look, think or worship differently than they do. This doesn’t make you a more righteous human being and it certainly doesn’t make you a better American. And businesses shouldn’t get to use “freedom” as a cover for bigotry or cruelty. What if the author of this blog decided not to allow you to post your opinions because you have a foreign-sounding first name?

    • THE VOICE OF REASON says:

      Huh?

  11. Josef K says:

    Now Pierre, it is amazing how wrong you are on every issue, Stand your ground Laws are good and true, one should not be required by law to run from an attacker. Common sense dictates, if one is under attack from someone who has put them in fear for their life, they have the God given right to defend their life to the highest possible measure. If some says to me, I am going to kill you, is surrounded by a pack of people, their crew, notorious for carrying guns and using them, any reasonable person has the God given right to vigourously defend their life. So I say to you criminals travelling around in packs like wolves beware in Florida, the prey can turn the tables on you, and help you to meet your maker at a young age, if you choose act aggressively and make decent citizens fearful that they may lose their lives. Stand your ground is simply self defense! Godless liberals like you cannot require us to sacrifice ourselves to the wolves because you don’t like firearms. Self Defense is God given right, Liberal gun banners be forever damned!

  12. I/M/O says:

    DNA researchers have stated they have identified the gene that determines one becoming an alcoholic.

    Therefore alcoholics are born that way.

    So using the logic here can a bartender refuse to serve an intoxicated alcoholic? Should that not be discrimination. The alcoholic has no choice but to drink. The alcoholics natural state is to be intoxicated.

    Alcoholic rights now!

    • A.S.F. says:

      @I/M/O says–Number One–DNA researchers have NOT “identified the gene that determines one becoming an alcoholic.” I don’t know where you got that one from. There are some studies that have suggested possibilities in inheritability for Addiction, among other factors. But, even if alcoholics are “born that way”, are you seriously comparing the harm that an alcoholic can do once intoxicated and unimpeded by impulse control ( thereby, being refused service by a concerned bartender) to someone who is being refused a common civil right simply for being Gay? Is that Gay person potentially hurting you just by being Gay? YOU are the one doing harm, my friend…You are denying basic civil rights to a whole lot of people simply because they happen to be of a different sexual orientation. So, if YOU are the one doing harm to another innocent citizen for no other (or better) reason than your own prejudices, perhaps we should be talking about making the active practice of bigotry against the law and take away YOUR civil rights. Then again, that would probably effect a whole LOT of so-called Christian right-wing Conservatives. I’d love to see THAT happen and watch them howl in indignation while lining up to clog our civil court system with lawsuits!

      • I/M/O says:

        A.S.F. says…

        Would you like to read the Yale School of Medicine report also.

        “Investigators at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Indiana University School of Medicine and other centers have identified a gene that appears to increase the risk of alcoholism.
        The study, published in the January 2004 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, is the first to demonstrate an association between this particular gene and alcohol dependence.

        The gene is related to a receptor that allows for the movement of Gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) between nerve cells. GABA is the major inhibitory chemical in the central nervous system.

        “There were lines of evidence from other studies — animal studies, in vitro studies — that suggested GABA receptors are involved in the behavioral effects of alcohol,” says lead author Danielle M. Dick, Ph.D., research assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “Because GABA receptor genes were likely candidates and previous studies had linked this area on chromosome 15 to alcoholism, we zeroed in on three GABA receptor genes but only found significant association with one of them.”

        The study was conducted as part of the national Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA), an ongoing project involving interviews and DNA samples from more than 10,000 individuals from inpatient and outpatient alcohol treatment centers and their families. Families in the COGA study usually have several members with alcohol dependence.

        For this study, the investigators analyzed DNA from 262 families, a total of 2,282 individuals. They isolated three genes on chromosome 15 — GABRA5, GABRB3 and GABRG3 — that sit very close together on the chromosome. Then the investigators used markers called SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) to study differences between the participants’ genes.

        The markers demonstrated small genetic differences did appear to influence the risk of alcohol dependence, but only in one of the genes: GABRG3.

        But it is not known how GABRG3 influences alcoholism risk. Dick says previous research has suggested chemicals that increase GABA receptor activity can accentuate the behavioral effects of alcohol, such as sedation, loss of anxiety and problems with motor coordination. Conversely, chemicals that decrease GABA receptor activity can have the opposite effect.

        Pathway to Alcoholism?
        “This suggests that somehow GABA reception might be involved in these behavioral effects,” Dick says. “But we don’t know exactly how, so we can’t tell what the pathway might be that leads from GABA receptor genes to alcoholism.”
        Finding that GABA is involved in alcohol abuse and dependence supports a current theory that predisposition to alcoholism might be inherited as part of a general state of brain overactivation. People at risk for alcoholism may inherit a variety of genes that contribute to this state. Perhaps alcohol normalizes that state of excitability, leading people with a hyperexcited nervous system to use alcohol more frequently in order to normalize brain circuits. That, in turn, would put them at greater risk for developing alcohol dependence.

        Dick says it is important to point out that genetic make-up does not necessarily mean a person is doomed to become an alcoholic.

        “One reason it is so difficult to find genes involved in psychiatric disorders is that there is an interplay between genetic and environmental factors,” she says. “A person can carry all kinds of genes that predispose them to alcohol dependence, but if they never take a drink, they won’t become an alcoholic.”

        • A.S.F. says:

          I/M/O says–T I read the report to which you referred which was published several years ago without a follow-up since and for good reason. There have been other studies throughout the years that have also “suggested a possible genetic link” ever since Alcoholism adopted the “disease model” for treatment. However, no definitive genome has been mapped to date–although research continues to be done. It has been found that some groups of people lack a “step process” in their livers that break down the components of alcohol and that trait can cause problems to arise in some individuals in those particular groups over time…but not everyone with that same “step-process” necessarily ends up having problems with alcohol. There are a multitude of factors at work. If I knew that a came from a long line of alcoholics or addicts, I wouldn’t take chances myself. And I counsel others to consider the same. Unfortunately, no single gene has been identified. It would be so much easier if it was.

      • I/M/O says:

        Actually A.S.F. let me apologize for my feeble attempt at sarcasm. “Alcoholics Rights Now!” was meant to be sarcastic.

        Now let me state that I agree 100% that discrimination against anyone by any business that is “Open To the Public” can never be tolerated.

        Entering into a business that is “Open to the Public” is no different than walking on a public sidewalk.

        Of course a customer who is disrupting a business or who is breaking the law would be the exception. In that case the police should make that determination as to ordering the customer out of the business with the threat of arrest in the future if they return to said business and not the business owner making that decision. i.e. “A business has every right to ban a shoplifter from ever trespassing into their establishment again.” i.e. Intoxicated people can be directed to leave a business.”

  13. Sherry Epley says:

    Many of the “legal” reasons for refusing service have to do with insurance regulations/safety issues, and so are not relevant to this conversation.

    The laws excluding access based on sexual orientation are just as bigoted as those excluding people based on skin color. Those who advocate “freedom” at all costs need to realize that they do NOT live on their own private planet.

    Folks, we live on a planet blessed by diversity in the development of a number of different religious, societies and cultures. We in the USA can choose to embrace and respect those differences, or we can act out of fear, paranoia and hatred and move into the future weakening our country at every turn by invoking the divisiveness of the enemy within.

    FREEDOM doesn’t just mean “YOUR” Freedom, it also means “MY” FREEDOM!

  14. Bill says:

    What ever happend to freedome of association??? if one is dumb enough in business to turn away a customer then let them why would anyone wish to do business with ones who dont want your business. Now if we are talking about Government then it should be illegal to do the same.

    • I/M/O says:

      Government was without any doubt the biggest offender as to discrimination against gay people.

      Do you know how many people were fired or forced to resign from government jobs if it was discovered they were gay in the past?

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