Last fall, the city of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho enacted an ordinance banning “discrimination based on sexual preference” — a rather innocuous and inoffensive-sounding legislative expression until one sees it in practice. After a federal judge overturned the state of Idaho’s ban on gay marriage, the city made threatening noises to Donald and Evelyn Knapp, ordained ministers who own the Hitching Post wedding chapel in the city, after the Knapps refused to offer their facility to a gay couple. In a lawsuit filed by Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the Knapps, the organization warns that via the ordinance the city could impose fines of $1,000 per day and even jail time to the Knapps in punishment for their refusal to participate by providing the venue for a gay wedding.
Later, the city said the Hitching Post was exempt from the ordinance because it had reorganized as a religious corporation under Idaho law — at least a temporary reprieve from the long arm of the law.
Much has been made of cases like that of the Knapps — the baker asked to bake a cake, the florist asked to provide flowers, the photographer asked to take pictures for gay nuptials. The non-political response to these controversies is obvious — why not just find a different baker, florist, photographer, or chapel? There is hardly a systematic, monopolistic refusal on the part of, say, florists to provide services to the gay betrothed; finding a willing vendor is anything but impossible.
As we know, that isn’t good enough for the Left — who isn’t looking to safeguard the rights of gay couples to have nice things or preserve access to the marketplace but rather to punish those who dissent from the establishment of gay marriage as an institution. In every case like the ones described it’s been obvious that the “aggrieved” couple in question has sought out problematic vendors to demonize for their refusal to participate.
“Everything I like is a human right and must be subsidized by the government, and everything I don’t like must be banned,” is the effective mantra of the progressive petty tyrant, and therefore it’s inevitable that when the Left is able to cobble together a legislative majority at the local, state or federal level the result will be that no longer are you free to conduct life in a manner violating their desires.
Knowing all this, a freshman state representative from Louisiana filed HB 707 — which would bar state or local governments in Louisiana from negatively affecting the operational status, through licensing, tax treatment or other means, of businesses in the state who choose to exercise their conscience on the issue of marriage. Rep. Mike Johnson, who brought the bill, is a constitutional law expert who has defended cases involving religious freedom for decades, and with the Supreme Court set to rule on a case on the gay marriage issue in June and the likelihood strong the Court will overturn gay marriage bans across the country he crafted HB 707 to prevent local governments from impositions like the one in Coeur d’Alene or in Oregon, where the state Bureau of Labor and Industries proposed a $135,000 fine against Aaron and Melissa Klein for the sin of refusing to supply a wedding cake from their bakery to a lesbian couple for their nuptials. The case of the Kleins has become even more bizarre when, after their business’s car was vandalized and they were forced to close their business location, the fundraising site GoFundMe canceled a drive to crowdfund for their legal costs in order that they might stay in business because its Terms and Conditions ban raising money “in defense of formal charges of heinous crimes, including violent, hateful, or sexual acts.”
Johnson’s bill doesn’t involve GoFundMe, and it doesn’t allow for gay-bashing bakers. All it says is governments in Louisiana can’t discriminate against businesses that exercise their right of conscience against wedding ceremonies which don’t involve both a husband and wife. The bill has no effect unless the Court throws out Louisiana’s gay marriage ban, so it can be seen most accurately as a prophylactic measure to safeguard religious freedom in the marketplace.
Oh, but the backlash. Even in Louisiana, where polls indicate gay marriage could never get approval in a public referendum and where the population is as or more religious than anywhere in America, Johnson’s bill was largely greeted with groans and derision. State Senator Conrad Appel, hailing from suburban New Orleans, said on the Red Bayou Show podcast (which I co-host) that there was little enthusiasm in his body for Johnson’s bill and expressed concern that whatever the merits of the bill it would negatively affect New Orleans’ tourist economy. IBM and EA Sports, both of which have not-insignificant operations in Louisiana thanks to some friendly tax treatment and incentives offered by the state’s economic development agency, weighed in with opposition to any “anti-gay” legislation. And a Baton Rouge Metro Councilman calling himself a Republican publicly bashed Johnson as a “despicable bigot of the highest order” for trying to prevent a Louisiana-style reprise of the Sweet Cakes by Melissa fiasco.
The bill isn’t seen as likely to make it out of the House Civil Law Committee in this session, and in both New Orleans and Shreveport there are “fairness ordinances” banning “discrimination” against gays — whether those ordinances would extend to a baker or florist or wedding chapel presented with a demand to participate in a gay wedding is a matter of question.
And so as the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision nears, it seems a matter of time before Louisiana joins other states in having an episode where a Christian business owner is put to the question — your faith or your livelihood. Such a choice should be unnecessary in a free country, but that kind of society is not the aim of the cultural Left, is it?