TW: opinions, lesbians, the ACLU, human rights, lawsuits, lawyers, “true marriage” supporters, Catholics, family-owned businesses, conservatives, white upper-middle class liberals, married lesbians, money, Vermont, weddings, wedding receptions, Americans, modern journalism.
So there’s this lawsuit that a lesbian couple and the ACLU and the Vermont Human Rights Commission brought against an inn in Vermont whose owners apparently refused to host a wedding reception for the pair because of their (the owners) Catholic beliefs. To make a long story short, the inn’s owners agreed to settle for the amount of $30,000, of which $10,000 is going to the Vermont Human Rights Commission and $20,000 to a trust fund to be disbursed by the couple (quote from the ACLU site, excuse the borked look of the page if it looks borked — it did in my browser).
Conservatives, naturally, are disgusted. “Dear Gays, this is why people don’t like you,” comments Kathy Shaidle of Five Feet of Fury. “The price of following your conscience in Vermont is $30,000″ says Lifesite News. “Vt. government ends religious persecution of family business,” reads the first part of the headline of this article on the Alliance Defending Freedom (“for faith, for justice”) website. Basically the conservative consensus (based on those links anyway) is that once more a couple of icky gays and the bullies at the ACLU and in the godhating marriage-destroying liberal government of Vermont have attacked one of the conservative movement’s favorite big-eyed puppies: a “mom-and-pop” Christian-family-owned-and-run business.
For some reason, though, I felt dissatisfied, like some part of this story wasn’t being told. $30,000 isn’t chump change, and if the business really was a tiny mom-and-pop that amount of money could ruin them. The narrative, of course, is that the ACLU and their homosexual lackeys are bullies who Don’t Care, and who want to destroy all businesses anyway because Communism and it’s all part of a Plot to turn the country into a giant re-education camp where heterosexual marriage will be outlawed and children will be raised in dormitories to be loyal drones of the State. Be that as it may, the ACLU might have huge coffers, but they probably don’t want to waste time going after every pipsqueak homophobe in the land without good reason. There is such a thing as conservation of resources. Also, despite claims to the contrary, they’re just as sensitive to bad publicity as any other large activist organization.
What I’m saying is they had to have some reason stronger than the humiliation of a couple of lesbians to back them up, and to bring in the Vermont Human Rights Commission. (Which, by the way, is a real government body, not just some self-assembled group of local social justice warriors.) Private organizations are one thing, but state bodies are supported by taxes, and they can’t just go do whatever they feel like, despite what anti-government libertarians et al like to believe. In the government every penny has to be accounted for. That’s why it’s such a pain in the ass getting anyone in the government to do anything. It’s not like they can just write a check. Don’t you remember all those scenes in The X-Files with Mulder getting bitched out for driving an FBI car across the country to chase another alien space ship? Have you ever had to fill out an expense account at your job? What about a government job?
Anyway, something about this “tiny Christian family business attacked by gay SPECTRE” didn’t satisfy me. I wanted to know what really went on between the couple and the inn and why it resulted in a lawsuit and settlement instead of a “fuck them” and an unfavorable review on Yelp. I decided to look things up. A-googling I went. The first thing I found was the ACLU article I linked above, but it was too painful to read due to the page not displaying properly in my browser for some reason.* So finally I found this in an article on the Chicago Tribune website:
The Vermont Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act prohibits public accommodations from denying goods and services based on customers’ sexual orientation.
The law applies to inns, restaurants, schools, stores and other businesses that serve the general public. Exceptions are made for religious organizations and small inns with five or fewer rooms.
OH. And here is the description of the Wildflower Inn, from the same article:
The 24-room, dog-friendly Wildflower Inn, which sits on 570 acres of picturesque terrain, promotes itself on its website as an ideal spot for romantic getaways, among other things.
Bolds added by me. Please see the previous quote where it says the exceptions are, among other things, “small inns with five or fewer rooms.” The Wildflower Inn might be a family-owned business, and it might not be large, but it’s got almost five times the amount of rooms that would allow them to kick out the gays. But that’s not really my point — there’s the fact that there was already a law in Vermont prohibiting the inn for discriminating against lesbians or anyone else who didn’t follow Catholic marriage practices, and the inn’s owners knew it, and that’s why they settled.
Now you might think this anti-discrimination law is unfair, or ungodly, or stupid, or unnecessary. You might also think that gays shouldn’t go around suing people who discriminate against them even if there are laws supporting their lawsuit because it’s frivolous, a waste of the court’s time, makes people dislike gays even more, is petty, and so on. But that’s another argument for another day. As long as this law is on the books, businesses have to follow it. They can, of course, consciously resist, but it doesn’t seem as if the owners of the inn were interested in doing so, or else they wouldn’t have settled. It could be they decided to settle knowing that the Christian conservative part of the internet would rally to their defense anyway with the predictable “ACLU gay bullies!” cry, but that I don’t know. I do know that I was not satisfied that I was getting the whole story, and I think I can see why. The situation looks less like a tiny Christian ma-and-pa getting devoured by unreasoning gay lions and more like a successful business paying the price for screwing up. They have my sympathies, but so do the ladies who got treated badly. (If you don’t think they got treated badly, you try putting yourself in the shoes of someone getting refused service they’re willing to pay for because of what they are. Sound familiar?)
*Update: here’s a link to another, more detailed article on the situation on ACLU.org that also displays properly in Chrome. If what is in this article is true, the inn’s behavior towards the couple and other non-traditional couples as well was even more douchebaggy than I thought. Sample: “It turns out Wildflower Inn had a policy of not responding to initial inquiries or phone calls about wedding receptions if it was clear that the reception would be for a same-sex couple. In other cases, the owners of Wildflower Inn admitted they would discourage same-sex couples from using the facilities by telling those couples that hosting the reception would violate their religious beliefs.” Not cool, innfolk.