You’re probably familiar with what might be the greatest scene from The West Wing. In a 2000 episode titled “The Midterms,” the White House hosts a gathering of talk radio announcers and while President Bartlet addresses the group, he notices a “Dr. Laura” type, Dr. Jenna Jacobs, sitting down while every one else in the room are standing out of respect for the chief executive.
Bartlet interrupts his remarks to the room and engages Jacobs directly.
“I like your show. I like how you call homosexuality an abomination,” Bartlet snarkily observes.
Then he sets about completely decimating the chief justification for homosexuality being a sin — the Book of Leviticus — by rattling off a series of other things which the Bible condemns as abominations such as growing two crops side-by-side, touching the skin of a pig on the Sabbath, wearing garments of two different threads and so forth.
Knowing how this fantastic bit of television writing by Aaron Sorkin has been out there for so long, you’d think the flimsy Leviticus-says-homosexuality-is-a-sin argument would have died a long time ago. It’s such an inherently weak position to take, but on the contrary it’s returned in full force in several states where proposals for “Right to Refuse” laws have emerged. If passed, these laws would allow business owners to refuse service to homosexuals based upon religious objections. The most infamous law was recently introduced in Arizona.
And now, in addition to homosexuality being considered a sin by these people, businesses who serve homosexuals are evidently “aiding and abetting” the sin.
At least that’s what Erick Erickson tweeted on Friday.
The squinty conservative fire-eater was debating a fellow Fox News contributor and USA Today writer, Kirsten Powers, who came out against the Arizona law, referring to it as a “Jim Crow law.” And she’s right. It is.
Powers noted in her column that prison ministers work with obvious “sinners,” unrepentant murderers and the like, so why shouldn’t businesses serve homosexuals? In response, Erickson wrote that prison ministry happens after the sin is committed, but business owners (they agreed that work is a form of ministry) who sell goods and services to homosexuals are “aiding and abetting” the sin — interesting use of words since “aiding and abetting” are words generally associated with a crime and not sin.
Let’s briefly return to the original argument that the Bible strictly forbids homosexuality. Leviticus does, but as Sorkin via Jed Bartlet pointed out on The West Wing, it forbids many other things that hetero- and homosexual people alike do nearly every day. In addition, the Bible has been used as a justification for everything from slavery to racism to laws against mixed-race couples. In President Barlet’s speech he accurately notes that Exodus allows men to sell their daughters into slavery. Does Erickson and his cabal believe they’re allowed to do this because Exodus sanctions it? We should hope not.
But let’s look at this in terms of cold hard economics. In New York City alone, same-sex marriages contributed $259 million to the economy in 2011, the first year in which it was legal. The Congressional Budget Office reported that same-sex marriage generates up to an additional $700 million annually in government revenue. Economist M.V. Lee Badgett estimated that nationwide $1.5 billion would be spent on same-sex marriages. But all of those numbers only account for same-sex marriages. What about the LGBT community in general? We’re talking about $800 billion in annual consumer spending.
Same-sex households spend at rates fairly similar to other households, when it comes to shopping for consumer packaged goods. However, gay and lesbian households make 16% more shopping trips than the average U.S. household – 173 vs. 149 per year.3 The impact on total spending equates to about 25% more for same-sex households. Male same-sex households are especially likely to spend more frequently, shopping nearly 30% more often than the average household. On average, that’s $2,045 more per year spent on packaged goods in male same-sex households. This means that brands have more opportunities to reach LGBT consumers at retail to influence their purchase behaviors and brand preferences.
That’s a massive vein of consumer spending, and Erickson thinks it’s “aiding and abetting” sin.
More broadly speaking, and not unlike the religious argument regarding the contraception provision in the Affordable Care Act, this “Right to Refuse” argument could very easily be exploited and extended to anyone else (name the minority), as long as chapter and verse can be cited to justify it. We’re talking about an ancient text with numerous (and disputed) translations, filled with allegories and metaphors, and too-often misunderstood pronouncements. Hell, as we reported last week, there are self-proclaimed religious people who think the Bible requires us all to own guns, and this nutbag cited a passage to back it up.
Religious people clearly have the right to practice their own religion, but they’re not allowed to discriminate against people because of who they are. This isn’t a matter of “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Dice,” it’s a matter of constructing a second class of citizens whose choices would be limited because of who they love. And the basis upon which these laws are being written is as frail as, clearly, the sexual-identity of the straight lawmakers who wrote them.