Weekly Column

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Vermont filed a lawsuit against a Lyndonville, Vermont resort that refused to host a lesbian couple’s wedding reception because of the owners’ personal bias. Vermont law prohibits denying access to public accommodations based on sexual orientation.

Kate Baker and Ming Linsley of New York wished to hold their wedding ceremony at a Buddhist retreat in Vermont and have their reception at a nearby inn. Linsley’s mother, Channie Peters, contacted the Vermont Convention Bureau to locate a facility and received information on the Wildflower Inn. The 24-room inn described itself as an award-winning resort and an ideal destination-wedding location. Baker and Ming were excited about holding the reception there, but when the events manager learned that it was for a lesbian couple, Peters was told that due to the innkeepers’ “personal feelings,” the inn does not host “gay receptions.”

According to the ACLU, The Vermont Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act explicitly prohibits any public accommodations from denying goods and services based on customers’ sexual orientation. The law applies to inns, restaurants, schools, stores and any other business that serves the general public. The act contains exceptions for religious organizations and small inns with five or fewer rooms; the Wildflower Inn fits neither category. The inn is a multimillion-dollar public business whose slogan is “Four Seasons for Everyone!” (What part of everyone don’t they understand)

Once again, we are confronted with rude individuals who think their beliefs place them above the law. This is a bastardization of religious freedom — which only gives a person the right to worship, not the right to persecute people who worship differently or not at all. Allowing this couple their reception in no way would violate the owner’s religious beliefs because no one is forcing the owner to change his belief system or marry a person of the same-sex.

If we bend the law for zealots to have their way, civil rights laws would fall apart and social chaos might ensue. Imagine if fundamentalist Christian inn owners didn’t allow Jews to have a reception because they rejected Jesus Christ as their lord and savior. Just think about how messy it would be if religious hoteliers would not allow divorced individuals who remarry to stay because it violated their consciences. Let’s take it to the next level and think about the societal consequences of inns that would not provide a room for women on honeymoons unless they were certified virgins — and employed on-site doctors to ensure the women were “pure.”

If one’s conscience and religious beliefs are the basis of providing public services, none of us are safe. This includes religious conservatives, who might not be welcome in some hotels, particularly in large cities, college towns, or seaside resorts. If conscience were the new basis for public accommodations, by what authority would the rejected fundamentalists have to complain?

It is important for people to remember that using God to gay bash is no more than a recent political fad – predated by more enduring cultural prejudices. For example, Leon M. Bazile, a trial judge in the famous Loving v. Virginia case that legalized interracial marriage, justified banning such unions by appealing to religious arguments:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Bazile’s statement creates obvious questions: If a homophobe can discriminate against LGBT people based on religion, why can’t a racist discriminate against interracial couples based on sincere faith?

Although we may find their views noxious, who is the government to decide which religious beliefs are acceptable and which ones are not? And, if they make such a decision, don’t they violate the Establishment clause?  Why do fundamentalist Christians think they are the only people who get to pick and choose with whom they associate 100-percent of the time?

The alternative to creating a bigoted and fragmented nation is ensuring that businesses open to the public — are actually accessible to everyone. If a business owner is so committed to pushing his or her morals and values onto innocent bystanders — may I suggest opening up a church instead of a public business?

Finally, a tactic du jour by the fundamentalist lobby is to scream “victim” because they can no longer force others to abide by their church rules. Ironically, they decry a loss of freedom of speech – all the while exercising this right ad nauseam. They have their own organizations, radio talk shows, television networks, churches and worldwide missionary networks. If this cacophonic din is what “oppressed” fundamentalists sound like now, I imagine we will all need earplugs when their freedom of speech is finally restored.

We absolutely cannot bow to special interests insisting on special rights – a mantra they slap on others seeking equal rights…or we will have a nation of double standards that fuels the very sectarian controversies and resentments America’s founders worked to avoid.