Do businesses have a right to deny services to homosexuals based on religious conviction?

120301_xgr_wash_state_capitol_1_660According to Komo News 4 and the Seattle PI, several Republican Lawmakers are introducing a measure to exclude business owners from Anti-Discriminatory lawsuits where their religious beliefs would be protected in denying services or goods to those who identify as homosexuals. This measure is Senate Bill 5927. It is being sponsored by 12 of the 23 senates Republicans as a response to an anti-discrimination suit filed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson against a floral shop in Richland whose owner refused to provide flowers for the wedding of a longtime customer who is gay (Connelly, 2013: Seattle PI).

The Seattle PI reports:

It would permit businesses or individuals to refuse services on grounds of “sincerely held religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs or matters of conscience.” The legislation erects a barrier designed to prevent or limit the initiation of anti-discrimination action by the state.

PI writer, Joel Connelly, quotes this:

The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief, philosophical belief, or matter of conscience may not be burdened, unless the government proves that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restricting means to further that interest.

This brings to the forefront of the discussion as to whether or not an individual or a business has a vested and ethical responsibility to serve the community in whatever capacity they deem fitting. What I personally mean by this is that we all reside in our respective communities, and we all thrive on industry and ensure that we provide the best possible goods and services to each individual within our community. With this said, it is imperative we differentiate the difference between our own religious belief systems and the more important issue of how we are able to maintain our own religious belief systems without interfering our own vested and ethical responsibility within the given community.

Therefore, let us examine the situation here from a more objective and valued observation. The owner of the floral shop has had a long standing relationship with a customer who is gay (given the statements inferred within the two articles of the Seattle Times and the Seattle PI). She had developed a professional and ethical business relationship within the community, serving various customers from a diverse background. However, this same customer came in to order wedding flowers for their wedding and now, because it is a same-sex wedding ceremony, the business owner refuses to provide the same level of customer service that had already established a healthy business-consumer relationship. The refusal of service is based on the religious convictions of the business owner and the idea that same-sex marriage is against the standards of her particular belief system.

The consumer, having enjoyed wonderful customer services from this business and business owner now feels violated, ostracized and discriminated against. Question: How is it a problem for the business owner that the client is gay now that the customer would like to purchase flowers for the wedding when it was not an issue prior to this event?

One could say that the business owner felt that her religious convictions jaded her viewpoint and saw the consumer as an abomination and therefore discriminated. Another could say the business owner has every right to dictate who the clientele will be. The owner may say it is because they disagree with the homosexual lifestyle and by allowing the customer to purchase flowers for the wedding ceremony that it infringes on her religious rights and freedoms.

Here is where I want to make a very real distinct and clear observation – especially since my faith and religion is that of the supporting the traditional family. However, my own religious convictions should never ever become a barrier to serve within my community. What this means, and please understand, it is not a matter of whether or not the business owner’s religious convictions and belief system was being oppressed, attacked, or discriminated against. It is a matter of principle and ethics that the business owner allowed her religious convictions to become a catalyst for the biased and discriminatory aspect that has become the consequences.

Here is the thought process on.

There is value and vested interest in the key role traditional families play within the community. From a scientific and developmental standpoint, there is significant value in the reason for the family unit to be of a Mother and a Father. This value and reason has long been destroyed and changed through the ages that has come about because of the “Make love not war”, “Free love”, and the onset of the “Sexual Revolution” that has now become the catalyst of our post-modern world.

On the flip side, a colleague, that is gay, articulated something that I personally never thought about – the whole cultural war comes down to one fundamental issue – the ability of same-sex couples having the same rights and privileges to engage in a healthy and meaningful relationship where they care for one another. For instance, through my employer, I would be offered a health insurance packet. I could put my wife and children on that. However, there are provisions that prevent same-sex couples from sharing insurance coverage with their partners and therefore creates a discriminatory practice since both would have to be placed onto their own individual health insurance. From this perception, I understand where he is coming from.

We also must remain ever mindful of the severe persecution society has had on gay men and women because of religious dogma’s. Some cultures still put homosexuals to death because they view it as such a sinful act and offensive act deserving of capital punishment.

Where then does this leave us with the question as to whether or not business owners ought to utilize their religious principles and convictions as a means to deny goods and services within the community where they are doing business with.

There are two issues here we have to address. First, it is the perception on both sides. Second, it is the nature of that perception and whether or not such a perception ought to be influential in creating a law protecting outright discriminatory practices.

Here is where I am coming from. First, we all have our own perceptions, we have our own biased convictions. Understanding our own convictions and belief systems helps us evolve into who we are and what we are all about. More importantly, we ought to never deny our own values and belief systems.

Second, because we have come to understand our own biased and prejudicial perceptions, we are able to move forward and do our best to serve those that may or may not hold those same values and belief systems. Within our own values and belief systems, we come to understand that it is not about our own selfish desires and wants, it is about how we are able to become better neighbors in reaching out in love and compassion to our fellow human beings who are neighbors are.

In fact, Jesus Christ himself utilized a very powerful parable in answering the question – Who is my neighbor. This powerful parable, he mentioned three types of people. A Jewish Priest, a Jew who was a Levite, and the Samaritan. In the life and times of Christ, there was a heavy cultural division between the Jews and the Samaritans. Despite this cultural difference, it was the Samaritan who reached out and showed compassion, nursed the Jew (who was robbed, beaten and left for dead on the side of the road) back to life. It was the Samaritan, who was viewed as being culturally unacceptable to the Jew that ensured the individual was taken care of and had their needs met.

On the surface, this may suppose that there is a conflict between religious belief system and serving in our communities and reaching out to those within our communities despite cultural differences and belief systems that are different. In reality, this is only a conflict if we allow it to become a conflict.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I disagree with the idea of same-sex marriage for reasons that are based on eternal principles and divine revelation as to the purpose behind the traditional family unit. However, my religious conviction and principles never come into play when it comes to serving in my community and addressing the needs of those within the community that are seeking out the very same goods and services all of us stand in need.

It comes down to the basic teaching for Christians, we are to be actively involved in the world, however, we are counseled not to be conformed to the world or the world views that deny the principle and simplistic teachings of the Gospel Message. It is time that we stop talking past one another and actually reach across the table with compassion and respect. Despite our religious convictions and our belief systems.

3 thoughts on “Do businesses have a right to deny services to homosexuals based on religious conviction?

  1. Should a person denied service because they are gay be able to post on the internet that you’ve done so, then in turn YOU be denied service because you denied service to a gay person? It’s against my religion to serve those who hate one of God’s children.

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