When Pat Buchanan made his fabled “Culture War” speech to the 1992 Republican National Convention, my then-partner and I had just checked into a lovely bed and breakfast near Athens, Georgia. The elderly couple who owned the B&B had invited us down to the Victorian appointed living room to watch television with them that evening. As Buchanan’s speech (which Molly Ivins once remarked “sounded better in its original German”) got around to gays and lesbians – an uncomfortable silence permeated the room.
“Americans are a tolerant people. But a majority believes that the sexual practices of gays, whether a result of nature or nurture, are both morally wrong and medically ruinous. Many consider this ‘reactionary’ or ‘homophobic.’ But our beliefs are rooted in the Old and New Testament, in natural law and tradition, even in the writing of that paragon of the Enlightenment, Thomas Jefferson (who felt homosexuality should be punished as severely as rape),” Buchanan intoned.
When we had called to make a reservation earlier in the day, the lady had asked if we wanted a room with twin beds or the queen size bed. “Queen will be ﬁne,” I told her.
As we sat side-by-side on her ﬁnely-crafted sofa we knew the jig was up. They knew, and we knew they knew. They never said a word, and their hospitality continued to be perfect – but we were suddenly tired, and needed to go to bed.
I wonder, to this day, if we had told them at the beginning that we were gay if they would have rented the room to us. The uncomfortable silence as Buchanan spewed his vitriol that night makes me think they might have told us they were full up. Then the next question would be – would we have sued them?
According to the religious right, we gay and lesbian people are just itching for the opportunity to sue the pants off of anyone who would deny us accommodations or refuse to host our wedding or shoot photos for the event or bake a cake.
Have some couples sued over this? Sure … and I’m a bit dubious about how it advances our rights. An article in the Baptist Press gives a rundown of some current lawsuits and how they are “squashing religious liberty.”
Certainly, the religious right has made “religious liberty” code for “we reserve the right to discriminate against LGBT people with impunity,” but I think some businesses ought to have the right to deal with who they want to deal with. A photographer, or a baker, for example, should be able to serve who they please. If their refusal to serve an LGBT person (or anybody else for that matter) leads to a lawsuit or a boycott, that’s the risk they take – but as an entrepreneur, they should be able to choose their clients. When I was a freelance writer, I wouldn’t dream of writing copy for things that went against my beliefs – even if the pay was great. People offering services like that should have the right to pick and choose their clientele.
Now, if you run a facility – religious or otherwise – that offers its space to the general public, that’s a whole ‘nuther matter. General public means “general” public, whether they agree with your beliefs, or you agree with theirs. Public is public – whether you’re a B&B, a religious facility renting space or a lunch counter. If religious beliefs are more important than opening your facility to the public then become a private club like the Boy Scouts so you can pick and choose your clients.
Of course, that doesn’t deter the religious right from going to ridiculous lengths to claim their “victimhood.” In Maryland, a group of “ex-gays” is insisting that they be included as a “minority” in a pending sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination bill being considered by the Baltimore County Council.
“No councilmember should vote for this bill if it excludes former homosexuals. Ex-gays like me deserve the same equal rights that gays enjoy. We urge Quark to include all minorities in his bill, and not just favored groups,” said Grace Harley from PFOX.
Actually, Grace, if someone is a “former homosexual” that would make them a heterosexual with way more rights than any LGBT person right now.
Back in 1992, there were no “gay marriages” or pending lawsuits against B&B owners – but there were already those in the majority talking like they were the victims. Buchanan’s speech laid the groundwork for the increasing volume of “majority victimization” we see today. This time, however, the real victims can’t afford to sit silently on the sofa.