The name sounds so open. Welcoming.
“Equality Promotions” of Madison, Wisconsin. The company, which among other promotional products prints signs for its customers, advertises on its website as follows:
At EqualityPromotions.com, we are a gay-owned business that supports our LGBTQ community.
But in reality? When contacted on whether they would print signs for the controversial Westboro Baptist Church — signs church members actually use in their protests that read, really, “God Hates Fags” — “Equality Promotions” was in fact not so opening and welcoming after all. Particularly for a firm that was co-founded by a United States Congressman who happens to be gay.
In the ongoing debate over the Indiana Religious Freedom Act, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, a possible 2016 GOP presidential candidate appeared on Face the Nation over the weekend and said this:
“Tolerance is a two-way street. If you’re a print shop and you are a gay man, should you be forced to print ‘God hates fags’ for the Westboro Baptist Church because they hold those signs up?”
With that quote in mind, I contacted Equality Promotions and asked them the inevitable question:
If the Westboro Baptist Church or any other potential customer came to you and asked you to print, in Santorum’s words, signs that say “God Hates Fags” — would you take their business? Should you be forced to do so?
There’s an interesting twist here. The co-owner of Equality Promotions? That would be U.S. Congressman Mark Pocan, a Democrat and an openly gay member of the House representing Wisconsin’s Second District. Recently Congressman Pocan took to the pages of the Hill to write an op-ed with the two co-founders of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. The title: Hatred Doesn’t Work. Among other things, Pocan the print shop owner-turned-congressman said of the Indiana Religious Freedom Act that it was “legalized bigotry,” and also said this:
As national advocates for gay-owned and certified businesses, we found an op-ed recently penned by Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford (R) and Rep. Randy Forbes (R) of Virginia insulting as they compared Chipotle’s decision to serve only sustainably sourced pork with the alleged right for businesses to also deny service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patrons in the name of religious freedom.
What Lankford and Forbes failed to see is that their faulty comparison affirms our view — lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans deserve equal protections in the face of bigotry and intolerance.
The irony is that Senator Lankford and Congressman Forbes were asking for tolerance in their Washington Examiner op-ed. They wrote:
It is a wonderful thing that individuals are not only able to start and build a business in their chosen trade, but they are also free to structure that business in a way that reflects their personal beliefs and values. In turn, a wide market of choice is provided for employees and consumers, offering an opportunity to partner with a larger association with a shared commitment to a common cause. In America, we have the ability to act out our individuality and diversity in every aspect of our lives, and not just in our private or personal decisions.
Protecting corporate conscience acknowledges that behind a company name, individuals with their own identities, perspectives, freedoms and convictions are making decisions that affect real people — owners, employees, customers and the community.
There is a distinct social good to preserving the freedom of individuals to form and operate a business based on deeply held principles rooted in conscience.
A more perfect description of Mark Pocan’s own Equality Promotions sign printing business would be hard to find. Pocan is a gay man whose partner in life — they were married in Toronto — is also his partner in business. The two are clearly determined to be — in the words of Lankford and Forbes — “free to structure that business in a way that reflects their personal beliefs and values.” Their beliefs are quite prominently displayed — they are both gay and staunch supporters of the LGBT community. Fair enough. But.
Well aside from that tiresome staple of identity politics in that response from Pocan in the Hill (the bit that always comes across as “How dare you insult me and my group identity!” — otherwise known as liberal code for “double standard”), there is the obvious question here: Is Equality Promotions within its rights if it refused to print Santorum’s hypothetical Westboro sign were they asked to do so? Or is a United States Congressman involved in running a business that is open to discriminating against groups he doesn’t like?
Remember: the claim of Memories Pizza revolved around the O’Connor family’s religious beliefs, not their political or civic beliefs — with various branches of Christianity plus Judaism and Islam holding firm to their longtime beliefs that homosexuality is immoral and a sin. While supporters of gay rights and same-sex marriage frequently give another impression, in fact being gay isn’t about a religious belief. Gay rights, as its very name indicates, is about a political cause. Which means that just as Memories must serve gays and anyone else in its restaurant, Equality Promotions is required to serve any customer who walks in their door on a non-discriminatory basis. Or, yes indeed, legal trouble is sure to follow.
To illustrate the legal point, one has only to look at the story of Wang’s, a gay bar in Chicago. As reported last year in the Huffington Post, Wang’s found itself in trouble for having the following written on their menu: “Men Only After 11 p.m.”
Uh-oh. And that wasn’t all. The HuffPo reported said that Yelp “reviews report women being denied service, treated poorly and outright being asked to leave during the bar’s busiest hours.” Nothing was done about this until the HuffPo actually wrote up their story — and it wasn’t long before the Illinois Department of Human Rights came knocking on Wang’s door — and it wasn’t for a drink with the guys.
Is Congressman Mark Pocan, um, pulling a Wang’s? Would Equality Promotions actually refuse to print those infamous “God Hates Fags” signs if somebody from the Westboro Baptist Church strolled in the front door determined to make of Pocan’s business the example of intolerance that the Left has tried to make of Memories Pizza in Indiana?
Two e-mail contacts later, I have no idea. Equality Promotions is silent. Doubtless without knowing it, Rick Santorum has in fact touched a nerve in very liberal Madison, Wisconsin, and over there in the House chamber where he once served. Again, Santorum’s rhetorical question was: “If you’re a print shop and you are a gay man, should you be forced to print ‘God hates fags’ for the Westboro Baptist Church because they hold those signs up?” Better yet, although not asked of Equality Productions. Would Equality Promotions print signs that said, “Traditional Marriage Is Sacred” or “Marriage Is Between a Man and a Woman”? In other words, would a typical political pitch for traditional marriage be refused as a pitch for hate — and thus refused?
Equality Promotions, in fact a company that prints signs and is owned by a gay man who is also a member of Congress, isn’t answering the Santorum Westboro question.
The real irony here is that Equality Promotions shouldn’t have the faintest problem in saying to a potential Westboro customer: “Thanks, but no thanks. You’ll have to go somewhere else to get your sign printed.”
The reason they may not ever be able to do so, the reason Mark Pocan’s business could get in real legal trouble, is that people like Mark Pocan insist that they should be in trouble. And that is another law altogether. It’s called the “law of unintended consequences.”
UPDATE: Equality Promotions has responded: “We will print for anyone, as we don’t discriminate.”