Indiana and religious freedom

gay_marriage_81102178As part of its commitment to being impartial CNN decided to label the discussion about Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act “Rights vs Religion” because, well, you know, it is not as if anyone has any right to be religious. You just have to believe in one or the other, right?

And there is a great deal more in this debate – on both sides that is grossly deceptive. Supporters of the law say it is not designed to let businesses turn away custom from gay people. It is. Opponents say it undermines people’s constitutional rights. Remind me. Where in the Constitution is the line about having a right to buy stuff from a shop that doesn’t want to sell it to you? I think it is in the Forty Fifth Amendment to the Penumbra and Emanations clause, but my copy doesn’t seem to include the text. 

Most people would probably agree that churches, mosques and synagogues all have the right to turn away gay weddings, so why don’t florists and cake makers? (Of course, whether the state should recognize the weddings conducted by those churches, mosques and synagogues is another matter).  

If a business owner wants to engage in a petty and silly act of self-denial then there are plenty of other businesses looking for custom that will happily take up the extra work. This is hardly a disaster on the scale of Jim Crow. There are seven florists in Plattsburgh, so if one of them decided to turn away gay customers then gay people would still have six to choose from. Under Jim Crow all restaurants were compelled by law to have segregated seating. And mixed race couples who married in a northern state could be arrested for even visiting a southern state.

But, of course, this argument isn’t really about florists. The argument is about cultural conformity. A dominant liberal culture wants everyone to accept what it accepts, even if the liberal culture – if the president is any measure – has only accepted it for three years. And that is the other side of this debate. A formerly dominant conservative culture – that could win popular votes on this question in liberal Washington and California just a few years ago – feels its grip, even its understanding of America, slipping away. “Just a few years ago,” they say, “we were the majority, and now we are a threatened minority”. 

But this endangered species of cultural conservative does not need to be threatened by the coercive power of the state. To most young people, gay marriage is not a controversial issue. It is not even an issue. It is barely even a concept any more. We don’t have to go round separating marriages in “gay” and “straight”. There is just my marriage and your marriage. And what makes them different is that they are between different people. We don’t have tall marriages and short marriages, so why do we need gay marriages and straight marriages?

Liberals need to stop pointing at gay people in the street and loudly proclaiming “see those weird people over there? They are just the same as everybody else”. And conservatives need to accept that even when the liberals stop saying this it’s still going to be true. 

The fight is over. Liberals won. Conservatives need to accept this. And so do liberals. 

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at

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