The whole truth and nothing but the truth

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.

5 thoughts on “The whole truth and nothing but the truth

  1. No, I do not think they were treated badly “because of _what they are_.” They were treated badly because of _what they do_, and what they do is considered a mortal sin in the religion of the innkeepers (as well as simply a disgusting _res contra natura_ in the eyes of many others). The latter were asserting true fundamental human rights, of property (which necessarily entails the right of exclusion: do you let anyone who wants to camp in your living room?), of religion, and of association, rights which cannot be expunged by statute.

    The State of Vermont can, of course, use its police powers to force their acceptance . . . as do dictatorships around the world, or, to use a more germane example, in the same way that the state governments of the American South–to use an apt if obverse analogy–once passed “Jim Crow” statutes that forced private businesses to practice racial segregation, vitiating their rights of private property and freedom of association.

    By the way, do you accept any limits on the state’s power to tell private businesses whom they must serve? What if instead of two lesbians, a brother and sister had “married” each other and wanted to hold their reception at the inn? Would the innkeepers have been right to deny them the use of the premises? If yes, then what makes the incestuous scenario different? After all, the brother-sister espouses would be denied their use on the basis of _what they are_, according to your definition of quiddity.

    Let me propose a better system all around, one more concordant with human liberty: if an innkeeper wants to serve you, he/she should be free to do so; if not, he/she should be free not to do so . . . just as you, the customer, are free to take your business wherever you wish, and to persuade others to do the same. _That_ is liberty.

    • I was going to write a really long reply (okay, lie, I wasn’t) but I decided just to say that you and I obviously have very different views on life and its meaning. Also, if this business doesn’t want to serve people who commit sin, it needs to stop letting Christians stay there.

      Anyway, I’ll let you get back to what ever it is you like to do. (Edited for previous naughty stuff I decided I didn’t want to share with you after all. Find your own fun.)

  2. Carlos Perera – IF you want to run a “public accommodation” you have to follow the rules. If you don’t want to follow the rules, do something else.

    What if some religion thought that interracial couples were “a mortal sin in terms of their religion?” Would you go to bat for their right to discriminate and break the law at the same time? What if Muslims wanted to discriminate against Christians? Would that be OK? Or are you only all upset because you share the prejudice of the people in question?

    • Zendo Deb: Freedom of association generally, and of exclusion with regard to private property, are fundamental human freedoms. So, yes, even though I believe that discriminating against an interracial married couple is wrong–it actually _is_ a mortal sin in my religion–and I would be vexed by Moslems discriminating against Christians (especially as I would not do the reverse), I defend the right of private businesses to do so: fundamental freedoms cannot legitimately be denied by statute, not even by calling a business a “public accommodation,” though as I pointed out in my original comment, the state might well arrogate to itself the _power_ to do so . . . in much the same way as a thug with a gun arrogates to himself the power to take away your fundamental rights and freedoms.

      In a truly free society, market forces take care of the problem of how customers get accommodated, while preserving individual freedom. Remember that the Jim Crow laws in the American South were crafted to prevent market forces from working to integrate the races, which, as I also pointed out in my original comment, is analogous to what the State of Vermont is doing with its laws abrogating business owners’ individual freedoms. As long as businesses in general are free to serve lesbian couples who want to hold a wedding reception, some will provide the needed accommodation in exchange for hard cash, whatever moral or religious reservations they might have.

      As to my sharing the innkeepers’ “prejudices,” nothing in the story as reported shows that they had any: with apologies to Iñigo Montoya, I don’t think _prejudice_ means what you think it means (though it is a fine, emotionally-charged shibboleth to substitute for thought in modern American political discourse). According to my online dictionary, a prejudice is a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or experience, e.g., that all Jews are devious or that blacks are born chicken thieves. The Wildflower Inn’s owners did not opine that the lesbian couple were going to hold a naked orgy, or steal the silverware, or set fire to the place because of their sexual proclivities, notions which would have been based on prejudice, properly defined (though I believe they have the freedom to do so). The owners objected to renting out the inn to the lesbians for a reception on the basis of their moral and religious beliefs, which I do share; I believe, as they apparently do, that sexual coupling outside heterosexual marriage is _malum in se_, as Catholic theologians put it, and a mortal sin. By the way, in my understanding, that includes heterosexual couplings outside marriage.

      The state might have the power (again, like a thug), but it does not have the right, to condition the exercise of one’s business or profession on obeisance to the trendy social tropes of the ruling class.

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