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Human Rights

Why a Gay Man Like Me Is Going to Make It Hard for Indiana Shopkeepers to Exercise Their 'Religious Liberty'

Am I responsible for their damnation if I let'em serve me without mentioning that I'm gay and they don't guess it?

The following is not snark. It's an honest and practical inquiry: How will merchants in Indiana determine which customers can now be refused service under the state's new "religious liberty" law

Take sexual identity. If every LGBT person out there were a flamboyant drag queen, it might be easier for a merchant to decide who to refuse. But some gay people, like me, are just average white guys -- I don't swish, lisp or call everyone "honey," and if there's a song on my lips, it's more likely Jerry Garcia than Judy Garland. 

What's a God-fearing Indiana merchant to do if I walk in the door? Am I responsible for his damnation if I let him serve me without mentioning that I'm gay and he doesn't guess it? Must he ask all customers about potential offenses to his faith? 

Complicating things is the fact that some straight men are a bit effete and some straight women are kind of butch. Just because God made them like that doesn't mean their dry cleaning should get turned away.  

So, perhaps Indiana now needs a law requiring I.D. cards for all citizens -- yellow for the hets, pink for the homos -- to protect both the souls and the profits of faith-full, freedom-loving Chamber of Commerce members. Or maybe gays should be required to tattoo their foreheads for quick identification. If so, the same should go for straight people who practice oral and anal sex, since what offends some religious beliefs is "sodomy" defined more broadly, not merely loving someone of the same gender.

What about Jews? Some conservative Christians believe God does not hear the prayers of a Jew. If He can discriminate that way, why can't a car salesman refuse to sell a Chevy? And what about adulterers? Indiana's new law is so broad, it clearly protects the freedom to deny service to adulterers if that offends sincerely held religious beliefs. If so, and there's going to be some sort of I.D. system adopted, it could incorporate a scarlet "A."  

If the tattoo system isn't workable for some reason, or a more discreet I.D. card system isn't implemented, it raises the question: Now that the Indiana legal system permits merchants to discriminate between customers, what will the state do to protect those people wrongly denied service? 

It can't be long before we see a case in the Indiana Supreme Court in which a heterosexual plaintiff claims his rights were infringed because a baker, believing the plaintiff a queen ordering a birthday cake for his boyfriend, denied the plaintiff service. How will the plaintiff prove his heterosexuality? And what claim will the defendant make as the basis for his determination that the plaintiff was gay: "When a Britney Spears song came on the radio, Plaintiff rolled his eyes and muttered, 'Leave… Britney... ALONE!'" Or if the discrimination wasn't based on being gay, imagine the baker saying, "Well, he LOOKS Jewish, and the Jews murdered Jesus, so… " How would the Indiana Supremes sort that one out?

When hate, bigotry and fear-based divisiveness drive public policy, this sort of ludicrousness is predictable. It might be funny if it weren't so offensive to the basic values of fairness, tolerance and genuine freedom for which this nation, at its best, is supposed to stand.

John Moyers lives in Vermont.

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