Reading the latest news out of Arizona on gay rights brings an image to mind: Jim Crow.
The Arizona Legislature on Thursday approved a law that would allow a business owner to refuse service to a gay customer if doing so would violate the practice of the owner’s religion. So, as our colleague Cindy Carcamo writes from Tucson, a baker could refuse to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple if her faith proscribes homosexuality. Further, a hotel owner with similar beliefs could deny a room to traveling lesbians. Two men holding hands ask for a table in a near-empty restaurant? The God-fearing owner could bar the door without risking a discrimination lawsuit.
Now imagine a baker refusing to sell a wedding cake to a biracial couple because his religious views don’t include interracial marriage. Imagine a hotel owner denying a room to a black couple because her religion deems blacks inferior (there are such religions). A restaurateur barring the door to African American diners would be met with protests and process servers (and we’d all have flashbacks to Lester Maddox).
Such acts are now illegal; we have managed to shake off those vestiges of the nation’s shameful past, even if we’re still grappling with the social and economic echoes. But a large swath of the country can’t seem to wrap its head around the idea that all people are created equal, and are entitled to the same basic civil liberties.
And no, barring the religious from acting on the prejudices of their faith is not a denial of religious freedom. The right to worship, even if it is a religion of intolerance, exists. But there is no right to act on that faith in such a way as to deny the fundamental civil liberties of others. And operating a business is not a religious right. If personal religious belief precludes you from selling an item to a gay person, the answer is to shut down your business.
One hopes we’d have learned from our history of prejudice, and segregation. Placing legal limitations on people based on physical characteristics or personal traits is wrong, whether the issue is race, sexual orientation, age, physical disabilities or any other aspect of our great, broad and diverse humanity.