Cupcakegate and Other Manufactured Gay Controversies

First, let me clear something up for all those concerned about the sanctity of cupcakes in the state of Indiana. According to the Indy Star article, the request was for cookies, not cupcakes.

The local FOX affiliate indicates cupcakes might have been involved at some point, but that the shops denial was based not on the nature of the baked good, but on the symbolism and message it sent.

Let me be clear here: I am all for private business being able to determine what products it should and should not sell. If a shop wants to stick to Just Cookies, than cookies it shall be. If said shop doesn't ever do special-order cookies, than it's just the regular-menu cookies and that's all it shall be.

This shop had done special orders and had not changed its policy on the matter.

The proprietor's given reason for rejecting the cookie order was that he had moral concerns about the message that a rainbow-colored cookie would send.  His reasoning was based upon the fact that the group ordering it was a pro-gay group.

I wonder how he might have reacted if he got an order for Eid cookies (not likely) or an order for cookies for a political group he didn't support. Would he have turned them away too?  How about an order for rainbow-colored cookies for a public school's spring dance? Would a rainbow-colored cookie representing an arts non-profit be acceptable? Or is the rainbow-colored cookie only to be retained for special religious observances?

In all seriousness, he denied the order because he had a problem with the message of the group that placed the order.  His problem was with the message that it is ok to be gay or supportive of gay people. This isn't actually anti-gay discrimination, or discrimination based on the sexual orientation of the customer. This is discrimination based on the moral beliefs or religious viewpoint of the customer. The customer's orientation doesn't seem to have played into it, as this baker would likely have rejected the same request coming from a straight man for the same reason.

So the question here that both sides seem to have overlooked is not one of anti-gay discrimination.  It's related, to be sure. It's a question of whether or not it is ok to discriminate based on whether your religious views align with those of your customer.

This is a manufactured controversy. It hasn't helped that the media and other involved parties are also misidentifiying this as discrimination based on sexual orientation. Nonethelees, the Illinois Family Institute has pulled out all the stops with their breathless homophobia, accusations of bullying, and implications that this incident proves sexual orientation should not be a protected class. 

Not so fast, IFI. The "Institute" actually acknowledges that this is discrimination motivated by religious beliefs. What they can't seem to realize is that discrimination based on religion is also illegal. In this instance, it is discrimination against someone who does not share the religous beliefs of the baker. Tomorrow, it could be the electrician who refuses to rewire a synagogue because he disagrees with Judaism, or the atheist hair-dresser who won't do the pastor's new cut because she doesn't support his ministry.

Our society functions largely because most of us, most of the time, can agree to disagree on matters of religion. If moral or religious concordance were required to do business, the trash would never get picked up, utility service would be horrible, and nobody's pizza would arrive on time. A society as diverse as ours requires that businesses treat their customers with indifference when it comes to religious or moral matters.  If they can bake rainbow cookies for one customer, they can bake rainbow cookies for another customer.

"Controversies" like this one are not new.  There's Richard Raddon, former director of the LA Film Festival.  The professional anti-gays were all up in arms after he resigned, saying he was forced out.  The truth is that he voluntarily resigned. Yes, it was under public pressure and threats of an LGBT boycott, but no one can seriously blame the gay community for refusing to patronize a festival whose director was financially supporting a campaign against equal rights for gays.  The point remains that Mr. Raddon had several possible courses of action available to him and none were forced upon him.  In fact, the film institute that runs the festival initially rejected his resignation letter and prepared to go to bat for their beleaguered director.

Then we have the Methodist-run town of Ocean Grove, NJ. The story was presented (by the Alliance Defense Fund, among others) as gays vs. church, with the gays winning and the church losing its tax exemption. Not quite. The OGCMA is still a non-profit with much the same tax exemptions that other religious non-profits enjoy. The only tax exemption they're now missing is on a little piece of beachfront property.

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association pretty much owns all of the important property in Ocean Grove, NJ.  This includes a pavilion on the boardwalk that was recently renovated and was regularly rented out for events. That pavilion was the focus of a 2007 civil rights complaint by a same-sex couple who wanted to rent it out for a wedding ceremony. The OGCMA refused, stating that the pavilion was private religious property which they could legitimately deny to the couple on the grounds of their religious freedom. The state found this discriminatory and removed a property tax exemption that the pavilion had enjoyed. The association then sued in federal court, claiming their First Amendment rights were at stake.

Prior to the lawsuit, the OGCMA had applied for public money to restore the area under dispute.  In the application, the association stated that the area was open to the public. Nearly a century earlier, in 1908, the structure and accompanying boardwalk received a tax exemption because the organization had dedicated them as public space. In 1989 this exemption was superseded by the NJ Green Acres Program, which "encourages the use of privately owned lands for public recreation." This established and documented history of being a public space put the law squarely on the side of the state. A judge dismissed the case and the OGCMA lost their special 1989 property tax exemption because it was clear that they were not willing to continue to operate under the terms of the exemption.

Their defenders would tell you that the religious association was the victim here. Yet the OGCMA wanted to pick and choose which members of the public would be accomodated and which would not. They wanted it both ways: they wanted an extra property tax exemption specifically granted because they operated a public facility and they wanted to operate that facility like a private, religious facility. It's no surprise that the court ruled against them.

There are plenty of other examples of how IFI, NOM, and other "defenders" of the family are willing to distort the truth in service of their anti-gay agenda. Surprisingly enough (or perhaps not), these nominally Christian groups seem to have no troubles bearing false witness, as long as it's against the interests of their gay or lesbian neighbors.


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