Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, July 3, 2023

License to hate

By now, I'm sure all of you have heard about the 6-3 decision by the United States Supreme Court in favor of a Colorado web designer who felt like it was her right to refuse service to a gay couple on the basis of her "sincerely-held religious beliefs."

What you may not have heard is that upon looking into the details of the case, investigative reporters found that:

  1. ... the man, named only as "Stewart" to protect his privacy, whom the plaintiff Lorie Smith said was one half of the gay couple who asked for her services, has never attempted to hire her, and in fact had never heard of her before the case became public;
  2. ... he's a web designer himself, so in his own words, "It would make zero sense to hire a web designer when I can do that for myself;"
  3. ... his gay fiancé, "Mike," doesn't exist;
  4. ... and Stewart himself not only is not gay, he's been happily married to a woman for fifteen years.

So the upshot of it all is that Smith is so motivated by hatred of LGBTQ+ people that she invented an imaginary grievance, lied about it repeatedly through the various tiers of the court system, and eventually got license to deny service to a gay couple who doesn't, technically, exist.

The lawyers from the virulently anti-LGBTQ+ Alliance Defending Freedom, who defended Smith, don't seem at all upset by this.  After all, they got what they wanted; a court-sanctioned right to discriminate.  Kellie Fiedorek, who represented her, responded with a verbal shrug.

"No one should have to wait to be punished by the government to challenge an unjust law," Fiedorek said.

Apparently this allows you to invent a grievance, along with imaginary adversaries, and carry it to the highest levels of the judicial system.

And win.

Smith immediately took the mic on right-wing news to crow about this being a "victory for free speech and freedom of religion."  Because, of course, the explicit outcome was to allow her to get away with discriminating against a particular group she despises.  But what baffles me is how neither the six justices who sided with Smith, nor Fiedorek and the Alliance Defending Freedom, nor Smith herself, seem to realize how quickly this could be turned around.  What's to stop a queer-owned business from putting up a sign saying "No Straight People Allowed"?  Or an atheist-owned business refusing to serve Christians?  Or a liberal-owned business stating that no Republicans are allowed on the premises?

You have to wonder what the Religious Right will think if this decision starts being used against them.

Wasn't there already a battle over this sort of thing?  And didn't the bigots lose?  [Image of the February 1960 sit-in at Woolworth's, Durham, North Carolina is in the Public Domain]

Discrimination laws are there to prevent one individual's prejudice and hatred from impinging on the rights, security, safety, or life of someone based upon their demographics -- and especially, to protect members of oppressed or marginalized groups.  And before anyone comes at me about how oppressed and marginalized Christians are, allow me to point out that an overwhelming majority of Americans -- 63% -- self-identify as Christian.  In large swaths of the country, a non-Christian has a snowball's chance in hell of being elected to public office.  And in any case -- as I pointed out earlier -- Lorie Smith's grievance was completely spun from lies.  She created a bullseye herself, pasted it on her own forehead, and then claimed she'd been unfairly targeted.

And two-thirds of the Supreme Court agreed with her.

It's not just queer people who should be worried about this.  This ruling blows a gaping hole in prior protections from discrimination, not only on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, but race and religion.  "The worry is that this provides a green light to any business owner that they can refuse service to any person on the basis of their identity, whether they’re gay or lesbian, or Jewish or Black, or anything, because they have an objection to those sorts of people being in their business,” said Katherine Franke, a professor at Columbia Law School.  "There was nothing in the opinion that limits it to objections to same-sex marriage."

The only thing that keeps me from despairing completely about this situation is the sense that this is the last gasp of dying ideological bigotry.  Younger people are overwhelmingly in support of full rights for LGBTQ people, including the right to marry, and against the bogus outrage of people like Lorie Smith and the Alliance Defending Freedom.  So inevitably, as the younger generation becomes an increasingly large percentage of voters, it is devoutly to be hoped that the pendulum will swing the other way and sweep away the ugly vestiges of racism, sexism, and homophobia.

In the interim, of course, a lot of damage can be done.  Queer people and our allies need to stand up and speak.  Shout, even.  Friday's decision was a travesty of justice, driven by a warped definition of freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and flies in the face of every piece of civil rights legislation back into the 1960s.

But now's not the time to give up, as tempting as it is.

We can't let the hatred and bigotry of the Lorie Smiths of the world win.


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