If We Let Businesses Discriminate, Rural Gays Will Die of Starvation in a Ditch!

Market economics remain a mystery for some


Dinner is served
roboppy / / CC BY-NC-ND

In response to lawsuits filed against a florist in Washington State who refused to sell flowers for gay couples' weddings because of religious reasons, a pack of conservative state legislators have introduced Senate Bill 5927. The bill would allow people or religious organizations to "deny services if providing those goods or services would be contrary to the individual's or entity owner's sincerely held religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs, or matters of conscience."

So in response to the proposed addition to Washington's antidiscrimination laws is a fairly absurd slippery slope argument: If businesses are free to discriminate against gay people, then it will happen to the degree that people will actually die.

The blog for The Stranger, Seattle's alternative weekly, documents a particularly overblown argument between a citizen and a sponsoring senator's staff:

When Slog reader Jay Castro called state senator Mike Hewitt's (R-Walla Walla) office this morning to ask about Senator Hewitt's co-sponsorship of SB 5927, a bill that would amend our anti-discrimination laws to allow people to discriminate against gays and lesbians because of their "sincerely held religious beliefs," Castro says he was hit with a surprising response: Gay people should be prepared to fend for themselves.

Castro's aware that this bill isn't likely to pass but he tells me, "Regardless of if it's just a publicity stunt, it's my livelihood and my life that's on the line." He added: "I fought very hard for gay rights in Spokane in the '90s, as a kid," and he was horrified to wake up to headlines about this bill. So he spent his morning calling its sponsors to let them know. During the phone calls, he says he asked staffers some variation of the question "What are rural gays supposed to do if the only gas station or grocery store for miles won't sell them gas and food?"

Castro says the staffer at Hewitt's office surprised him with the answer "Well, gay people can just grow their own food."

Later the office apologized to the blog for the poor handling of the call. The office is correct in agreeing that the call was poorly handled, but probably not in the way The Stranger thinks it is. Instead of saying, "Gay people can grow their own food," the staffer should have simply pointed out how stupid this "What if?" scenario is, how unlikely it is to actually happen, how Castro probably has a very limited experience of what choices are actually available to folks in modern rural communities, not to mention how people in rural communities actually behave. Oh, also, if a community can't support more than one place to purchase food, then it's unlikely that one place can afford to engage in discrimination and thrive.

In order for a slippery slope argument to work, the outcome has to make sense. Any number of states do not offer discrimination protections against gays and lesbians. This is the stated reason for regular attempt to get the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed. If grocery stores and gas stations were inclined to refuse to sell food to gay people, this is a thing that would already be happening and would have been happening for decades.

Castro obviously knows that a law that permits religious discrimination does not mean that everybody's going to start discriminating. That's why he tried to game the scenario in such a way that just one person deciding to discriminate could cause severe harm to the victims. It's not a realistic analysis of what were to happen should SB 5927 were to actually pass. If Castro's fears were remotely likely to happen, we would already been able to have pointed to any number of examples where anti-gay discrimination in the providing of services caused actual substantial harm and not just inconvenience and outrage. Even Chick-fil-A will sell sandwiches to gay people.