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Golden gay parade costume
Golden gay parade costume
Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

The Arizona Governor did the right thing when she vetoed a bill that attempted to expand the definition of one's right to exercise their religion so that it can be used as a legal justification to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Discrimination against a person based on sexual orientation is flat out wrong, and most Americans recognize this. Unfortunately, bill proponents have a series of sneaky arguments to justify this bill. All of which are flawed.

One proponent excuse says that the Arizona bill simply expands a federal law to the states. This claim is false. A key difference between the federal law and the Arizona bill is how exercise of religion is defined. The Arizona bill defines it as "the ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief." While the federal law says, the term "exercise of religion" means exercise of religion under the first article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States." - This means as defined by the Supreme Court. The Supreme court says, "We have never held that an individual's religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate."

In other words. The state law tries to expand the freedoms protected under the free exercise of religion to include actions(and the prohibition of actions) motivated by religious beliefs, and not just religious rituals and beliefs. This leads to the second excuse.

The second proponent defense is that the bill is just about defending religion. Common sense should tell us that protecting religious freedom from government encroachment involves beliefs and rituals, not any ethical stance that one may base on religious beliefs. People have the right to believe and practice whatever religion they want, but not the right to ignore civic laws because their religion tells them they can. Plausibly, a religion could preach that paying taxes to a secular authority is unethical, dealings with people of other creeds is wrong, and slaughtering lambs on a public road is commanded by a god. Based on the freedom to exercise religion definition in the Arizona law, people can use religion as a justification to not pay taxes, refuse services to people of other religions, and defile public roads. The definition is plainly ridiculous and the Supreme Court agrees.

Here are two Supreme court quotes. " Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs. The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities." "Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices. . . . Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself."

Furthermore, such an expansive definition of exercise of religion treats the non-religious unfairly. The non-religious hold heartfelt ethical beliefs just as strongly as the religious do, but under the Arizona bill's definition, those beliefs are treated unequally under the law. If moral opinions that are based on a religion are protected, and moral beliefs based on an alternative philosophies are not, then the non-religious do not have a recourse to ignore laws that the religious do. This is discrimination based on religious belief, and is wrong. Also, such a definition is effectively establishing official religions - that is religion over non-religion- and this breaks the Establishment Clause of the constitution.

A third defense of the bill claims it is not about discrimination against homosexuals, but a moral objection to gay marriage. When a photographer regularly serves straight couples by photographing their weddings, but refuses to serve a homosexual couple, the photographer is refusing his services to the homosexual couple because they are homosexuals. This is discrimination based on sexual orientation, and is wrong. An objection to gay marriage is itself supporting discrimination against homosexuals - it is saying marriage between straights is ok, but gays is not. Furthermore, the photographer doesn't have to recognize the marriage as official in his religious views. One can take pictures of a ceremony and disagree with its significance. One can accept that secular law recognizes a marriage, even if one's god does not.

A fourth excuse is that homosexuality is not mentioned in the bill. A bill does not have to mention homosexuality to be motivated by bigotry. Either way, the impetus of the bill is to allow discrimination based on sexual orientation. During Jim Crow, poll taxes charging money or testing people's knowledge did not need to mention blacks to be racist. Poll taxes were still aimed at preventing blacks from voting.

The fifth and final defense for the bill results from an impetus of the bill. A court ruled that a photographer was wrong for refusing to serve a gay couple by taking pictures of their wedding. The photographer was forced to pay the couple's legal fees. Thus, the fifth defense is that the government should not be able to force some to provide their services to anyone. In its simplest form, this argument implies that discrimination based on race should be legal. However, there is something to this line of argument. Ideally, the gay couple could have just used another photographer. Ideally, a government should not have to force an individual to do anything. Ideally, no one would discriminate based on race, color, or creed in the first place. We don't live in the ideal world, we live in the real world. In the real world, people have hate, bias, and/or misguided thoughts in their hearts, and find reasons to discriminate. In the real world, our country has a long history of discrimination based on religion, race, and sexual orientation.

The specific issue of the photographer is not the most important thing here. It is the greater things that are the concern. We shouldn't live in a society that allows businesses to discriminate based on such things as sexual orientation or race. A cost of this may be that a photographer has to deliver services he doesn't want to. Should a white photographer be able to deny services because he believes interracial marriage is wrong? If a bar owner thinks his religion says homosexual alcohol consumption is wrong, can he now refuse to serve gays? We can't allow religious exemptions as a legal excuse to deny service based on sexual orientation.

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