Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Discrimination Test

So this woman in Kentucky refuses to issue marriage licenses to gay couples on the grounds of religious freedom. Now she's being sent to jail. People are defending her, because once again the poor oppressed Christian majority in this country is under attack by the well funded, excessively protected, queer/black/Muslim/atheist/whatever minority.

I have a trick for determining whether an issue is an issue. You have to ask a two simple questions:

1. Is the characteristic thing about the person their own choice?

If the answer is yes, you're done. It's an asshole thing to do, but it's ok to give someone shit for wearing pants you don't like or listening to folk music. It's their choice, just like it's your choice to voice your opinions to people who don't give a shit.

If the answer is no, move on to the next question.

2. If you replace the controversial non-choice characteristic with "black" or "woman" is it still acceptable?

Let's try it, shall we?

"A county clerk in Kentucky refuses to issue marriage certificates to black couples on the grounds that it's against her religion to allow inferior races to breed." -- Still ok?

"A department of motor vehicles worker in Ohio refuses to issue drivers licenses to women on the grounds that it's against his religion to let women roam free from their homes without their husband escorting them." -- Still ok?

Are you still confused?

Nobody is forcing this woman to work in a job that requires her to perform tasks against her religious beliefs.

If a hard-core Catholic got a job at a planned parenthood clinic; is it reasonable for him to insist that he not be involved in any of the stuff that involves... well contraception or abortion? -- No.

If a strict Jew got a job at Hormel plant where all the bacon is made, is it reasonable for her to insist that she not work in any part of the line where she has to touch the pork? -- No.

Religious freedom means you won't be denied a job (one you don't have any objection to performing), a loan, or be prevented from living in a particular place based on your religious belief. It also means you won't be prevented from practicing your religion in your home or chosen place of worship. It does not mean forcing your belief on others. A Muslim can no sooner insist that sitting in a restaurant where alcohol is served is an infringement on his religious freedom any more than a hard core conservative Christian can claim that two men holding hands in a public park is an infringement on her freedom.

The real problem in this situation is that being religious is a choice. You may not think it, but it is. People abandon their faith or take up new ones all the time. You could switch religion twelve times in a year and if you feel someone is looking at you funny at work for it, or you didn't get that loan because if the funny pants you have to wear now as part of your church; you get to claim discrimination and the ACLU will come rushing to your aid.

Being gay or transgender is not a choice, but it's not always protected. Not universally the way ethnicity, religion, and (recognized) gender are. So until it is; ignorant people still get to claim that discriminating against someone based on sexuality or gender identity is protected. The same claim they made against other races sixty years ago and the same claim they made against women over a hundred years ago.

I look forward to twenty years from now when we'll all look back at this time and pretend "nah, the gay thing wasn't a big deal. Yeah, one or two loud mouths made a fuss, but we were all pretty cool with it."

We weren't. Not even close. But human memory is a fragile thing.

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