Arizona’s SB 1062 has been creating waves in the news lately, and it’s the first time I think I’ve personally been presented with a hard question on the gay marriage debate. Every argument I’ve ever heard against gay marriage has come down to “God said no, ” and you simply can’t run a country on “God said no.” Otherwise our prisons would be filled with the divorced, fornicators, and people who don’t believe in our God. Little did you know, according to Christian doctrine, rejecting Jesus is a sin.

The first thing that came to my mind

When I heard of the photography situation in New Mexico, the first thing that came to mind was, “If you’re a photographer, do you refuse wedding customers that were previously divorced? Do you refuse customers that are having sex before they were married, or cohabiting?” Of course the answer is no. There’s no way outside of the most accidental coincidence for you to have that type of information. The only difference is that one is staring you in the face, while the others are secret.

After reading a few articles on the web, I was happy to know that I’m not in the minority of Christians who’ve thought about this disparity.

This discussion is unique, though. It’s the first time I’ve heard arguments from both sides that make complete sense. Here are a few:

Arguments in support of EqualityArguments in support of Religious Freedom
The first line of analysis here has to be whether society really believes that baking a wedding cake or arranging flowers or taking pictures (or providing any other service) is an affirmation. This case simply has not been made, nor can it be, because it defies logic.  If you lined up 100 married couples and asked them if their florist “affirmed” their wedding, they would be baffled by the question. – Jonathan MerrittThe disagreement comes on one issue only—should a Christian provide goods and services to a gay wedding. That’s it. We’re not talking about serving a meal at a restaurant. We’re not talking about baking a cake for a birthday party. We’re talking about a wedding, which millions of Christians view as a sacrament of the faith and other, mostly Protestant Christians, view as a relationship ordained by God to reflect a holy relationship. – Erick Erickson
This whole debate strikes me as faintly absurd. Since when does supplying a cake or flowers to an event signify one’s endorsement of its contents? (I’d happily bake a cake for the NSA holiday party next year if the gig pays enough.)  – Conor FriedersdorfThis slope is only slippery if you grease it with hypotheticals not in play. There are Christians who have no problem providing goods and services for a gay marriage. Some of them are fine with gay marriage. Some of them think gay marriage is wrong, but they still have no problem providing goods and services. Other Christians, including a significant number of Catholic and Protestant preachers, believe that a gay marriage is a sinful corruption of a relationship God himself ordained. Because they try to glorify God through their work, they believe they cannot participate in a wedding service. – Erick Erickson
The truth is, telling wedding vendors to only provide goods and services for “biblical” ceremonies is an exercise in futility. There is not a baker or florist or photographer in existence who hasn’t provided services for an unbiblical wedding. Perhaps that’s why Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, stated in a column this week that a photographer should refuse to film a same-sex wedding but for all other weddings, “need not investigate … whether the wedding you are photographing is Christ-honoring.” – Jonathan MerrittI can’t force a Jewish deli to provide me with non kosher meat. I can’t force a gay sign company to print me “Homosexual sex is a sin” banners (I’d probably be sued just for making the request). I can’t force a Muslim caterer to serve pork. I can’t force a pro-choice business to buy ad space on my website. I can’t force a Baptist sculptor to carve me a statue of the Virgin Mary. – Matt Walsh
No one has a right to another person’s labor. – Flame Cct

A Christian was concerned whether or not she made the right choice in refusing to photograph a gay wedding. She asked Russel Moore for guidance.

Dear Dr. Moore,

I am an evangelical Christian, and I work as a wedding photographer. By conscience, I hold to an orthodox view of human sexuality, with all that entails. I’ve been asked to photograph a same-sex wedding service (legal in my state), and I’ve said no. I wonder if I did the right thing.

After all, this is a business, providing a service. Would it be right for me to refuse to serve a gay couple if I owned a restaurant? I don’t think so.  If a same-sex marriage isn’t a marriage at all (as the historic Christian view teaches), then how is this different from just photographing people at a birthday party or community festival (in which case it wouldn’t matter what’s happening with them sexually).

Moreover, I’m not sure that photographing an event is an endorsement of that event. I have photographed weddings of people who were divorced (and I didn’t investigate the background), people who were probably cohabiting, people who were most likely unequally yoked to one another, and so on.

So I’m kind of caught. My conscience bothers me because I turned this couple down, and my conscience will bother me if I photograph this wedding. What do you think?

The Wedding Photographer

His answer?

You need not investigate as a wedding photographer whether the wedding you are photographing is Christ-honoring. But when there is an obvious deviation from the biblical reality, sacrifice the business for conscience, your own and those of the ones in your orbit who would be confused.

To be fair, his response was much longer than that, but the above text is the actual answer to her question. In my opinion the rest of his response was justification for the above answer. The Gospel Coalition has his full response.

The hypocrite-hunter in me says

If you can prove that your religious beliefs are legitimate then you should have grounds for protection.

Pastors come to mind as they investigate relationships before agreeing to officiate a wedding. I know many Pastors who have refused to marry heterosexual couples due to religious grounds not being met.

Pastors and Clergy have the easiest defense here. Some pastors refuse to re-marry divorced congregants if the divorce didn’t meet New Testament criteria. I remember specifically as a child, my father, who was a pastor, refused to marry a couple because of them being unequally yolked (meaning one partner was a Christian and the other wasn’t). Cases like these show genuine religious fervor, and not an excuse to discriminate against gays. For every dozen professing Christians that genuinely practice their faith, there are a number who simply are prejudiced, and the fear is that SB 1062 provides a cover for these folks to discriminate against gays, not for religious reasons, but by using religion as a front.

If Christian photographers, bakers, and florists historically went through the same investigative process that pastors do, it would make sense for them to be afforded the same protections. But they never have, they don’t now, and they would do it begrudgingly.

As Jonathan Merritt said, “The truth is, telling wedding vendors to only provide goods and services for ‘biblical’ ceremonies is an exercise in futility. There is not a baker or florist or photographer in existence who hasn’t provided services for an unbiblical wedding.”

The pragmatist in me says

The consensus I’m getting from Christian supporters of the bill is that providing products and services to a gay person or couple at a restaurant, bar, convenience store, birthday, or place of business is very different than at a wedding ceremony. If that’s what you mean, and that’s what the legislators meant, why isn’t that what the bill asks for?

Plain and simple, if you only want this to apply to gay weddings, then why not draft the bill to say it only applies to gay weddings. The bill is too general. Over-reaching might work for the NSA, but once public opinion gets whiff, it’s all over.

85% of Americans think that no one should be forced to participate in something that offends their religious beliefs. Public opinion was on your side, but you drafted a bill that doesn’t say what you think it says.

The Libertarian in me says

If all businesses were allowed to discriminate against patrons as they pleased, but were forced make their discriminatory stances public, the problem would self correct. With our culture the way it is, it would self correct fast and hard. Would this have worked in 1964? No, but neither would my Nissan Leaf.

In 2014 we have the social and technological infrastructure for such correction to happen: diversity, accelerated growth of previous minority populations and their buying power, popular culture, and the internet.

Racism and discrimination doesn’t taste good in our mouths. Consumers would choose to only patronize businesses that didn’t discriminate.  Tech giants driven by pop culture like Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter would play a major role.

Some large tech giant could add a filter on their mapping service that showed all the nondiscriminatory establishments as default. If you discriminate you’re put on another filter, or maybe not even listed at all. I could see Google and Apple, choosing not to list discriminatory businesses because it wouldn’t affect the real world value of their product in the slightest. Such a move could also make Christian protest a non-issue. Give it 5 years, and no Christian photographer is going to remain a photographer and publicly advertise that they don’t do gay weddings. Either they’ll shut down their business, or they’ll decide to chill out.

Justice Richard Bosson

From everything I’ve heard, the argument that makes the most sense to me is the one stated by the Justice Richard Bosson, who ruled against the Christian photographer in New Mexico.

The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead. The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more. But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.

In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.

Besides Bosson’s explanation being both eloquent and ethically sound, the reason what he ruled makes sense is because this isn’t new. The USA has ruled this way since the founding of the country. Secular ethics have always taken precedence over religious commandments. If they didn’t there would be no way for us to live together in peace.

The American government has always forced you to do things against your faith, or face penalty

When in court and the Judge says, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” Do we say, sorry buddy, but Jesus said:

But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. – Matthew 5:34-37

“So your honor, I simply state that ‘I will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’ May we begin?”

I don’t know how often Christians think of the difference between private life and civic life. In your private life, a husband and wife can agree that women’s role is to raise children at home. In your civic life, you have to work alongside women. In your private life, you might be against women in the military, in your civic life you have to fight alongside them. In your private life you might not use contraception and think they were invented by the devil himself, in your civic life, you’re required (out of necessity) to walk down aisles in the supermarket that sell condoms. In your private life, you might subscribe to Jesus’s command not to swear oaths in Matthew chapter 5, but in your civic life you have to swear before a Judge when in court. In your private life, you might be a pacifist, but in the event of a draft, your choice is military service or prison.

The deception of SB 1062 is thinking that recent rulings of courts in in favor of equality over religious freedom is any more intrusive than the government has always been. It’s just business as usual, so all the fuss over religious freedom is a bit unwarranted.

My warring brain has reached a conclusion

Your religion’s rules only seem non-arbitrary to practitioners of your religion. If a religion existed that said being black was a sin, would you as a wedding photographer in America have the constitutional right to refuse to do a black wedding on religious grounds of conscience? It’s not about Christianity; it’s about religion in the public sector of a secular state. It’s not about specific laws; it’s about how intrusive a government can be in it’s citizen’s lives. If a new race-based religion became popular, the government would still force you to serve other races at your place of business or face penalty.

If SB 1062 is legit, then it logically follows that forced desegregation in the 1964 Civil Rights Act was an overstep of the government, and how many of you are willing to admit that?1 If you are willing to admit that as a logical conclusion, then at least you’re honest. Government is a tricky thing.

If God is going to be mad at you for photographing a gay wedding at the insistence of the government, he’s probably already mad at you for living under any government at all.

I hope SB 1062 fails. Call me when they try to force Christian pastors to officiate gay weddings. That’s where I’ve drawn my Christian line in the sand.

  1. Update 5/16/15: Actually, an uncomfortably large amount of people in Christian Conservative and Libertarian circles are willing to admit that.