C.J. Marshall: Significa: The eternal conflict
One of the big news stories of late is Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's veto of a proposed bill which - if it had passed - would have allowed certain business establishments to refuse - on religious grounds - to provide services to gay members of the community.
Specifically, it would have permitted people who provide services to weddings - such as photographers, musicians, caterers and others - to refuse provide those service to gay couples wishing to join together in holy matrimony. Or at least tie the knot in a civil ceremony, as the case may be. According to the way the bill was written, people engaged in such business practices could refuse their services if they claimed doing so would be contrary to their religious beliefs.
The governor's veto has brought comments from both sides of the issue. Those elements criticizing Gov. Brewer's action have argued that gay people could simply shop elsewhere for those services; and that it is wrong for the system to require those who are against homosexuality to violate their religious principles.
Ah, if only life were that simple. I recall one time a lesson I learned in school many years ago that sadly still remains relevant to this day - namely, that freedom and equality often have trouble co-existing.
For example, suppose I was a very wealth man (I wish!). I'm getting on in years (true, but I wish not!) and I decide that I want to leave all my money for the establishment of a college for underprivileged students. I go to a lawyer and start to set up the arrangements. But I'm told that I can't have it exactly the way I want it, because I want to put a stipulation in the will stating that students will not be admitted to the college if they are black.
Now, I of course am very upset when informed of this. Because, on the freedom side, I am being told what to do with my money. My money, mind you, which I earned. I should be permitted to use it as I please. My lawyer tells me that I can't actually do anything with my money - that I am restricted from doing anything illegal; and the law requires you cannot create an establishment which denies a person access based on race. I insist that I earned my money through hard work; and that I am not harming anyone by creating a college and I should have the right to say who will attend and who will not; even after I'm dead.
You see, this can go on and on, and even though racial issues have lessened to a certain extent in this country over the years, the idea of freedom versus equality is still a mighty big thorn which we consistently have to deal with.
Going back to Arizona's bill, I am of the thought that Gov. Brewer was absolutely right in what she did. For several reasons.
First, the argument that gay people could go somewhere else for services is legitimate to a certain extent, but it doesn't always apply. Suppose there are gay people living in a small community who want to get married but can't get a local caterer to provide the service, because all refuse on religious grounds. These couples would have to go outside their respective areas and probably have to pay more as a result - thus penalizing them for their sexual preferences.
Second, if a person refuses to provide services for religious reason based on sexual preferences, what is to prevent them from refusing services based on other grounds. Thus you could have a Protestant photographer refusing to take pictures during a Catholic wedding; or a musician refusing to perform at Jewish wedding; or a caterer saying it would violate their religious beliefs to provide services for a Muslim couple.
There are many who will no doubt insist that what I have just cited is not the same as refusing based on homosexuality; but then I come back with "It isn't?" Religion has been used as an excuse many, many times throughout history when one group attempts to deny basic rights and services to another.
And finally, although the right to religious freedom is specifically stated in the U.S. Constitution, there have been a number of times in which the government - including the courts - have ruled that people and groups cannot follow certain courses of action, even if they claim religious reasons for such actions. One of the most famous examples involves the Mormons. At one time polygamy was permitted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - a practice that was eventually rescinded - but even today there are fundamentalist Mormons who have been prosecuted for marrying more than one wife. These people try to claim that they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs, but the courts have always ruled against them.
Freedom and equality are two things that we as Americans have always prized most highly. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, it is often hard - sometimes very hard - for the two of them to co-exist. But fortunately, we have always risen to the challenge of trying to make them get along, no matter how painful the process may be.
C.J. Marshall is a writer and columnist for The Daily Review. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.