Are we legalizing discrimination?

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By DON VOWELL

Life was easier when all we were asked to vote on was a school bond or a candidate for sheriff.  Now we may be asked to vote on how religious business owners should treat same-sex couples.  There are probably none among us wise enough to decide that question.

An Oregon baker refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple because he felt it would violate his religious beliefs.  The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries determined that this in turn violated the civil rights of that couple.  Oregon law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Fox News quoted the baker’s response as “I’ve never seen a government entity use a law to come after somebody because they have a religious view.”

There is the heart of what we must decide.  Oregon BOLI responded to the complaint against the baker not because of his religious beliefs, but because he discriminated against the same-sex couple, citing those beliefs as justification.  That’s not just hair-splitting.  Churches are often given religious exemptions to civil rights laws regarding sexual orientation. Businesses are not. Even though a proposed law names only bakeries and wedding photographers, it involves every Oregonian.  We’d be asked to decide if we are governed by religious beliefs or by Oregon law.  There is one constitution and three million personal faiths.

I admire the baker simply because he has the courage of his convictions.  It is only when his beliefs are used to justify harm to others that I fall away.  Though we cannot know the depth of his concern for any humiliation, embarrassment, or insult caused to the same-sex couple, it looks like confidence in his own religious views overrode any thought of theirs.

My understanding of Christianity certainly has no more validity than the baker’s, but Christianity is based on a Savior who said “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician” in response to criticism from religious hierarchy for sitting down with those perceived as sinners. I’m not suggesting the baker would do better to hang out with sinners, only that he lost an opportunity to show any compassion or humility to a couple he viewed as needing redemption.

The discrimination is apparent when you choose a single sin as objectionable to the exclusion of all others.  You have to pass by cautions against a host of other sins in the Bible in order to find any mention of homosexuality.  I wonder if the baker would refuse a wedding cake to an obese couple.  Gluttony is included in the Seven Deadly Sins.  Should the baker accept $200 for a big order while a man across the street panhandles for dinner?  Avarice is a sin.  Would he bake a cake for a divorcee?

Passage of this law might beget more laws, some more harmful.  Should an attorney be allowed to refuse help to a same-sex couple seeking joint ownership of property?  Should a pharmacist be able to refuse a prescription?  Should a landlord be able to deny housing?

I end this where I started, feeling unqualified to vote on this question.  The discussion about rights in America has swung so far toward individual “freedom” that any corresponding responsibility toward the good of society is ignored.  My beliefs are no more important than yours and do not give me license to treat you badly.  This is not going to be easy whether this bill comes to a vote or not.  Finding the balance between personal faith and rendering unto Caesar is never simple.

(Don Vowell lives in Keizer.  He gets on his soapbox regularly in the Keizertimes.)

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