Although Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act has recently raised serious questions about the future of pizza-catering at gay weddings, the bulk of the crusading for the right to discriminate against LGBT people is taking place at wedding bakeries and other more traditional purveyors of matrimony-related services. Aside from the handful of legal cases, the poor, put-upon wedding baker is the go-to hypothetical for those who argue in favor of religion-backed discrimination.
But there’s a new front in this war, from the other side of the battlefield: bakeries that refuse to bake anti-marriage-equality cakes. In response to the Indiana pizza controversy, former televangelist and Patton Oswalt tribute pastor Joshua Feuerstein decided to troll a Florida bakery by asking them to bake a sheet cake with an anti-marriage equality message:
Now, if she’d been expecting this call, bakery owner Sharon Haller could have first asked Where’s Waldo here for a credit card number, then happily delivered a cake that said, “We Do Not Support Gay Marriage, We Prefer Gay Sex The Way God Intended It: On The Down-Low At Camp.”
Instead, she refused this obvious crank call, and was rewarded with death threats. This is obviously at least as important an issue as wedding pizza, because it could have an enormous impact on the multi-dollar Being a Dick About It Cake industry. Now, where am I supposed to get my “I support common-sense reforms to background checks” cake for my daughter’s Gun Control Quinceañera?
This is a rather mild variation of the hypothetical that social conservatives always point to when arguing their religious freedom to be bigots, which usually involves “forcing” a black baker to cater a Klan wedding, or some other weird-ass Paula Deen fever dream. This sort of “thinking” suffers from the obvious flaw that racists are not a protected class, nor should they be. The latest “reasonable” conservative counter to this argument is that anti-gay bakers aren’t discriminating against people, they’re discriminating against “behavior.” My friend Thom Hartmann made exceptionally short work of that argument on his show last week:
In fact, numerous legal decisions, including the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas case, have found that you can’t use discrimination against behavior as a back door, so to speak, to discriminate against people.
During the sameshow, former Prop 8 advocate Jennifer Kerns advanced another argument that’s a popular foot in the door with the anti-gay right, and which hews closer to the principle at stake here: that “forcing” wedding photographers and cake-makers to perform services for same-sex weddings amounts to a violation of their First Amendment right to free expression.
This argument relies on never having talked to an actual wedding photographer, who will tell you that wedding photography is not free expression, and that clients will sue the living crap out of them if they don’t get exactly what they want. Try using the Upshaw Wedding as a milieu for your visual treatise on the Industrial Revolution, and see how that works out for you. It’s amazing that, for hundreds of years, people were hired to take pictures and write shit on wedding cakes without a shred of artistic integrity until it became legal for gays to marry.
In theory, I would prefer businesses to practice the kind of consistency that this pastor is looking for, and in general, they should. Unless you’re being asked to write or bake something obscene or otherwise violative of community standards, just do your goddamn job. It’s a generally understood principle that if you’re hired to write a message on a cake, or to take pictures, the result is not reflective of your personal views. That baker in Florida should have made that guy his sheet cake, and charged him a fuckton of cash for it.
But there is nothing close to equivalency here, because the law doesn’t protect trolling douchebags. You have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason, provided it isn’t because of their race, religion, gender, nationality. and in some places, sexual preference or gender identity. The law protects (or should protect) classes of people based on their vulnerability to discrimination based on immutable traits. Being a bigoted douchebag is not an immutable trait.
Not even for conservative comedian and smug dick from the rich kids’ camp in Meatballs Steven Crowder, who recently tried his own bit of religious freedom performance art in which he trolled Muslim bakeries around Detroit to see if they’d bake him a theoretical gay wedding cake. If you can stand to watch the video, you’ll see Crowder admit that many of the bakeries agreed to his specious request, while hidden camera video showed some that would not.
They never actually said it was because of the gay, and it’s possible that Crowder cut out the parts where they cited fatwas against douchebaggery, but his point was that the media didn’t care when it was Muslims being bigots. It’s not a perfect test, because as far as I know, no one has tried to buy a real wedding cake from a Muslim bakery, been refused, and taken them to court, but as much as I hate to admit it, he’s got a germ of a point. When Indiana TV stations were looking for a business to step up and be an anti-gay punching bag, they went to the trouble of sweeping Christian pizzerias rather than bakeries of other faiths.
But Crowder, and everyone else who got fired up about that Indiana pizzeria (which has now raised almost $900,000 on GoFundMe), missed the buried lede in that story. That pizzeria also said they would never cater a wedding for people of a different faith. It makes you wonder if conservatives would be pouring cash into that pizzeria’s coffers if the headline were, “No Pizza For Jew!”
The fact is, we need better laws to protect people from the kind of discrimination that’s being pushed in the name of religious freedom, but we also need our nation’s bakers and photographers and florists to be a whole lot more humble. You’re being hired to provide services for a day that is not about you or what you believe, a concept that seems pretty clear to everyone when gay people are not involved. Just do your jobs.