‘Tolerance Is a Two-Way Street,’ Says Religious Conservative Who Opposes LGBT Protections

‘Vice’ examines the battles LGBT citizens continue to face following the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Mar 12, 2016·
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

“Why not just go somewhere else?” That’s the response of many religious conservatives when confronted with lawsuits from LGBT customers who have been denied service. But human rights advocates warn that allowing one business to turn away clients based on sexual orientation can open the door to widespread discrimination.

On the latest episode of HBO series Vice, correspondent Gianna Toboni explores the emboldened fight by conservatives who say serving LGBT customers violates their right to religious freedom.

“What person really wants someone who disagrees to be involved in creative services for that person?” Alan Sears, president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, asks Toboni of same-sex couples who attempt to order cakes or request flowers from religious shop owners. “Do you really want to do that to other people?”

Sears’ organization has led the charge to challenge laws that prohibit businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. From Oregon to New York to Washington, dozens of lawsuits from LGBT people alleging discrimination have popped up. Many business owners say serving a gay couple violates their deeply held religious beliefs and echo Sears’ recommendation.

“I would think that if I came in expecting to be treated one way and was treated another that I would go somewhere else,” said Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado. Phillips is appealing a ruling by a Colorado court that found he discriminated against an LGBT couple requesting a wedding cake. “Americans have the right to live and work according to their faith,” he added.

Colorado provides antidiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation, but it’s in the minority. More than half the states lack antidiscrimination protections for LGBT people in public services, 28 states lack protections for housing, and 18 states lack protections for employment, according to Human Rights Campaign. In 2015 alone, more than 100 religious liberty bills were introduced in 31 states, Vice reports.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., points to the long history of using religious doctrine to justify discrimination.

“There were religious arguments used to subjugate women in this country. There were religious arguments used to subjugate minorities in this country,” Booker tells Vice. Last year he introduced the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, jury service, access to credit, and federal funding.

“The story of this nation is a story of evolution, of us more and more recognizing the dignity of people,” Booker said. “We can’t stop now.”