Danny Westneat responded to my email. Here’s what he said:
“Thanks for your letter below. I was out ill last week and so am only able to get back to you now.
I appreciate your effort here, and your desire to explain. While I fully understand that many people don’t support gay marriage (I have always understood that), I still think it’s odd to push for a right to deny services. I agree with you that people shouldn’t be forced to go to a gay wedding if they don’t want to (i.e. the wedding photographer.) But this push to, for instance, the right to fire gay people by those who don’t agree with their gayness just seems very strange to me. There are a gazillion things in the workplace that we all come upon that we don’t approve of, yet this one is a fireable offense? That seems so extreme to me that I can’t wrap my head around it as just a religious conscience issue. It seems discriminatory.
What is going to happen here, I think, is that as gay marriage becomes more accepted then eventually people who don’t agree with it will learn to go along with it and just look the other way. That is fine. But just as seating blacks at the lunch counter became mandatory, so will be at least tolerating the idea of gay people getting married and raising families. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. But you do have to go along with it. Sorry, but if you’re running a business open to the public, you just do. In the cases you describe below of florists and photographers, etc., it won’t mean they have to go to gay weddings. But they will have to sell them flowers. Maybe they can arrange to have a clerk in their shops who doesn’t mind do it for them, and they can “look the other way.” That has been the way of all these advances in civil liberties we’ve had in this country for generations, for women, minorities and now gays. Some people don’t like it, sometimes for genuine reasons, but eventually, over time, they go along.
Or maybe I’m naïve, as you suggest. Wouldn’t be the first time! I believe the American arrow, as imperfect as it is, generally points toward more equality and more rights for more people. That’s why this is happening. By the way, your points about marriage being for procreation were rejected by heterosexuals a long, long time ago, many of whom are happily married without kids.
I do appreciate you writing to me. I agree that we need to respect one another’s views, especially when we disagree on something so personal. Respecting religious conscience is crucial, but it isn’t any more crucial than respecting other peoples’ rights. And so we’re sorting that out. I think religious folks are still going to get along fine in the world, though it is changing.
And now my reply:
I appreciate your response, and it raises some issues that I didn’t directly address simply because my letter was already too long. The main one is the distinction between “being gay” and “engaging in homosexual acts.” We must all admit that sometimes straight men engage in homosexual acts, and sometimes gay men engage in heterosexual acts. So what is “being gay” exactly? I’d say the only reliable test is whether the person self-identifies as being gay. Religious organizations are coming to accept this identity as a real and even unchanging facet of an individual’s personality, but they still are not accepting homosexual behavior. (And I’d bet money that the Catholic Church, as one example, never does accept homosexual behavior, at least not in this century.)
Right here in Seattle is an excellent example of the distinction I’m talking about: Josh Weed. Have you heard of him? He’s a gay man who because of his Latter-day Saint faith never has engaged in homosexual behavior and instead married a woman. Eleven years and three children later, he claims to be happily married. He’s become a minor celebrity since he came out on his blog more than a year ago. He’s been hosted by Ricki Lake and published in the Washington Post. Oddly enough, the Seattle Times seems unaware of his existence. I’m surprised the Seattle Times doesn’t find him interesting enough to merit a story.
I actually don’t know of any person or organization that wants to “fire someone for being gay.” Religious organizations may want to fire someone for engaging in homosexual acts, especially when those acts are made public with the title of marriage. I graduated from BYU. Every BYU student adheres to the “Honor Code,” which includes a promise to only have sexual relations within marriage. (You may remember a few years back when one of BYU’s best football players dropped out over “Honor Code” issues. I don’t think the nature of the infraction was made public, but the fact that his girlfriend also dropped out, made it easy to guess.)
If the complaint against the Catholic School should lead to a successful lawsuit, then BYU’s Honor Code would be legally suspect. And if BYU’s Honor Code should be challenged in court and declared illegal, then BYU would be unable to maintain the campus environment that is central to its mission. Church-run schools exist not only to teach theology in the classroom, but also to create a campus environment that is in harmony with the church’s theology.
So the distinction between gayness as an identity akin to race verses engaging in homosexual behavior is one that conservatives make and which liberals must admit does exist, even if they believe it’s immoral to impose these sorts of values on a homosexual person.
Another distinction that we should consider is the difference between selling something that is uniform in an anonymous transaction verses the customized, personal services of a photographer, baker, etc. One of the comments on your column addresses this distinction much better than I can. This was posted by “Principled Atheist” of Duvall in response to the same column that inspired my letter:
Danny, I concede that the Arizona law was broader than it needed to be. I hope you can concede that it wasn’t based on an imaginary problem. You can be pro-gay marriage without thinking it’s right to force artists to create something that violates their conscience.