The confusion and arrogance expressed in state Rep. Walt Leger’s recent opinion piece in the New Orleans Times-Picayune against HB 707, which would prohibit state government coercion against service deliverers who make decisions to engage in commerce on the basis of their views about marriage, illustrate the bill’s necessity.
His error begins at the most fundamental level by conjuring an equivalency between protections granted in the U.S. Constitution based upon a person’s immutable characteristics, such as race and sex, and a person’s behavior, such as expressions of homosexuality that would include the notion that a marriage between people of the same sex is blessed by God. The Constitution protects people for what they are, not how they choose to behave, with the two exceptions of behavior extending from political belief and religious belief – the latter exactly the point of the bill.
Confusion reigns elsewhere in Leger’s screed. He claims that existing law would provide adequate protection against discrimination against religious belief, but does not seem to understand that the government actions the bill seeks to enjoin as a result of exercise of religion concern matters of state government regulation not otherwise addressed. He also inaccurately distorts the permitted invocation of conscience as a cause for concern far beyond its extremely narrow zone of views on marriage.
Most tellingly, Leger cannot tell the difference between people and ideas. If a baker refuses to confect a cake celebrating a same sex union, it’s not discriminating against people who behave homosexually, it’s discriminating against the idea that one should have to join in celebrating a same sex union. Would Leger force a baker to supply a cake for a party in honor of a rookie hit man who just completed his first job successfully if that idea offended the baker on religious grounds? People are not cakes; is it discrimination against someone on the basis of some imagined right of sexual expression to turn down a request for a celebratory same-sex union cake by a person who acts heterosexually that wishes to give it in honor of nuptials of a couple who acts homosexually?
If Leger needs to draw some kind of accurate comparison in terms of alleged discrimination, he should look to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. There, the federal government could not force provision of a service, if a less restrictive way existed, by a private, closely-held employer to its employees when this conflicted with the religious beliefs of its owners. HB 707 logically extends this protection to views about marriage to such entities against state government in relation to services rendered to the public. To argue that a less restrictive way does not exist when such deferring service providers would be few while the remainder constituting the vast majority would be eager to snap up the business is beyond silliness.
Yet most disturbing about Leger’s view is the intolerance it promotes that he claims to deplore. That orthodoxy must be imposed that assigns such extreme importance to behavioral choices that these trump well-founded matters of religious conscience should worry anybody who cherishes liberty. While he evinces worry about signs going up saying “Heterosexuals only,” the attitude conveyed in the explanation of his opposition draws a much stronger parallel to those placards ordered upon Jewish merchants, which advertised their Jewishness, in Germany in the 1930s, signals to the polity that it was acceptable to consider the idea of a Jew as reprehensible and to be avoided. That’s an ugly future to imagine, completely contrary to American political culture, and surely Leger does not understand that his argumentation to reject the bill plants a foot firmly down this path.
Similar mistaken rhetoric has emanated from other sources, including a couple representatives of large corporations who do not seem to understand what the bill is about and an intemperate, loudmouthed local legislator in Baton Rouge who has a habit of labelling as “bigotry” any viewpoint that disagrees with his own. It is shameful that they express something so out of touch with Louisiana values and with simple human decency.
Perhaps Leger and those so angrily against the bill should reflect upon the wisdom of Pastor Martin Niemoller, who wrote succinctly and elegantly about the danger of letting governments decide when belief innocuously applied to the larger world became in its eyes so deviant that it had to move beyond mere suppression of it. Would their messianic zeal to deny protection to a minority against their presumed moral righteousness and indignation lead in the future to someone having to admit, “First they came for the believers in traditional marriage only, and I did not speak out because I was not one of them ….”