I don’t know whether I’m going to get death threats or a parade in my honor for taking up this subject. But it has been rattling around in my brain for a few days now and I think I can risk expressing some thoughts on it even though it feels a little like swimming in shark-infested waters with an open wound.
We have all been watching the news about the controversial Indiana law that was recently signed by Indiana Gov. Mike pence that supposedly deals with guaranteeing religious liberty, but seems to have been devised and supported by intolerant religious bigots who are opposed to gay marriage and abortion rights and who would like to be able to legally discriminate against homosexuals. They want to be free to prohibit or limit the rights of others. I have been following it with interest because it is at one and the same time sad, pathetic, stupid, yet intriguingly complicated – pretty much like the country I live in.
A week or so ago I also read an article somewhere on the Internet in which the author claimed and “a right to vacate.” This was in reference to a person who might be in a restaurant in one of those states that allows people to openly carry firearms on their person. The author posits a situation where someone who has an aversion or fear of people carrying firearms should be allowed to summarily vacate a restaurant in which they were being served if a person openly carrying a firearm is also being served there. I don’t even know if there is a law regarding this matter, but I rather like the idea.
So I want to propose two situations to consider : A gay couple coming into a restaurant, and an openly armed couple coming into a restaurant. (Not too difficult to imagine, unless you’re imagining them as the same couple.)
The question is: are there appropriate reasons for the proprietor of this restaurant to discriminate against serving either or both of these couples.
Here’s what got me going on this. I see this butthole governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, in a clip from the George Stephanopoulos show, in which Pence is smearing himself with his own feces trying to slither out of answering a yes or no question from Stephanopoulos as to whether the law he has just signed would allow a Baker to refuse to cater a same-sex wedding if the baker felt that in so doing it would offend his religious principles. Pence refuses to answer, blathering on about how people don’t understand what the law is really about (when his problem is that we do). But he has a problem, which is that there are many businesses in the state who are concerned about this law because there is growing talk of corporations, tourists and other entities boycotting Indiana because of its bigotry.*
But that evening I happen to be watching a movie in which there was a scene of sexual relations between two gay men. It was a DVD, and I did what I usually do when I encounter the scenes in movies that I am watching; I fast forwarded through the scene. I should point out here that I also do this with sex scenes between heterosexual couples in films that I am watching, not because I am a prude, but because I find these scenes often extremely gratuitous, almost always boring, and disruptive of the continuity of the narrative.
But I noticed that the sex scene between the gay couple struck me differently. The best way I can put it is that it has the same affect upon me as somebody scratching their fingernails on a blackboard. Gay sex makes me uncomfortable. (And, yes, I know someone is already saying, “Ah, this is the cry of a repressed homosexual.” Wrong; I am not gay, and you are a pea-brained asshole.)
It’s not gay people, mind you, but gay sex. It’s okay for people to be gay, and it’s okay for them to have sex, and I approve of them being able to marry, adopt children, and enjoy full equal rights as any other married couple in America. But I cannot deny the sense of discomfort that I have when two men are having gay sex. It’s not my “choice” to feel this way, it’s not religious, it’s not political or ideological, it’s not homophobic. It’s gustative.* I don’t know whether it comes from nature or nurture – that’s something we can take up at another time – – but it’s there and I have to recognize it. The question is whether it also deserves social recognition as well. My solution is not to prohibit it but to hit the fast-forward button. Sorry guys . . . gays . . . whatever.
The reason I bring this up is that I can see a little crack in the anti- discrimination logic. Life involves a lot of choosing, and choosing is a form of discrimination. I might well get up and walk out of a restaurant in which there was a homosexual couple engaging in public amorousness that made me feel uncomfortable, the same reason I might get up and walk out of a restaurant in which a heterosexual couple was behaving this way, or a parent was not keeping control of a misbehaving child, there was some loudmouth flatulent jerk disturbing the serenity of the restaurant or, that there was some swaggering ass of a patron sporting a .357 magnum at his belt. Indeed, I can see where these circumstances could be a difficult situation for any business that wants to keep customers from feeling uncomfortable and taking their patronage elsewhere. (Probably similar to the reason that many businesses in Indiana with the state would away from its so-called Restoration of Religious Freedom legislation.)**
Part of the question turns on the matter of preemptive choice. Of these sorts of people—homosexuals, families with young children, or people who own and openly carry firearms, are not necessarily categorically offensive. Therefore, to refuse service to homosexuals purely on the basis of their sexuality, not in that we know about their sexual behavior, is clearly discrimination. A fundamentally religious restaurant owner who refuses to seat or serve those he regards as “sinners” would be acting no differently than what used to occur at lunch counters in southern states. Make no mistake about it: the purpose of legislation like the so-called Restoration of Religious Freedom Act legislation is to restore that level of discrimination.
However, I would have no difficulty with a preemptive the exclusion of people openly carrying firearms into establishments that I am patronizing. While homophobic restaurant owners might feel that they are protecting me from “turning gay” by being seated near one, I have a real, and empirically-verifiable, reason to support a preemptive refusal of service to some coward openly carrying a lethal weapon. Hence, I would support public interest legislation that would give the right of private establishments to preemptively prohibit those who openly carry lethal weapons and not only discomfit other patrons, but increase the prospects for causing bodily harm or death. Call it the Restoration of a Civil Society Act.
In America it needs to remain to be possible to be a homosexual couple that has adopted children, and is also openly carrying loaded firearms. That is what freedom means. But when they are a couple that engages in what I would regard as distasteful acts of public affection, fails to survey all and keep their children under control, and arrogantly brandishes their firearms, Freedom also means that I can fast-forward these assholes out of my life.
In the circumstances I have been treating here, I am not so sure that the kinds of legislation that Indiana has created and has been copied by other states is all that degree of infringement upon freedom. Let the intolerant restaurant owners have their bigotry.*** It’s their choice, and why would a homosexual couple want to give bigots their patronage (and an opportunity to spit in their soup)?
Indeed, homosexuals, and those of us who detest laws that allow people to openly brandish loaded firearms need to reassert the restoration of our own freedoms—the freedom to discriminate against and segregate these bigots and bullies out of our lives. We cannot prohibit them from having their bigotry and their arrogance, but we can deny them our patronage, we can deny them our investment in their institutions and in the communities that support them, we can shun them as much as they wish to shun others. The greatest freedom we have is the freedom to say “Fuck You, Indiana!”
© 2015, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 4.2.2015)