Cleveland, OH is hosting the “gay-games” soon. In preparation for it, organizers purchased advertising space atop city taxi cabs. But a couple dozen cabbies have refused to report to work so long as these advertisements sit on top of their cars. They cited religious objections. Bigotry, right? Discrimination, right? Surely there’s a public outrage. Surely this is all over the news media. Surely lawsuits are being filed everywhere by civil rights activists. No? Haven’t heard about this? Maybe that’s because the cabbies are Muslims, and in America, Islamophobia and Homophobia are ghastly sins, but Christophobia is a sign of social progress and intellectual maturity. Any casual observer of pop political culture and the news media will know what the coverage and conversation would be like had these men been evangelical Christians instead of Muslims.
At this point, it is important to reiterate where a helpful line might be drawn when it comes to the free exercise of religious practice vs discrimination against gays and lesbians. When we weigh the religious liberty interest of private businesses or business persons against discrimination concerns, we might distinguish between “lunch-counter” discrimination and “participatory” discrimination. In the former, a person is refused service because they are gay in an economic transaction that no one could interpret as endorsement of the lifestyle. Also, the economic transaction involves little personal interaction between the business or business person and the lifestyle of the patron. But with “participatory” discrimination, the transaction is far more complicated and entangled. Refusing service to someone at a yogurt stand because the patron is gay is different than refusing to rent out a bed and breakfast in your home, photograph a wedding, cater a gay pride event, etc. There is simply more meaning and interaction involved in the latter than in the former. In the latter, the service provider may be said to be participating in the lifestyle to a greater degree than simple lunch-counter service involves. Oh, and since being black doesn’t involve an alternate sexual lifestyle, the moral analogy between the two breaks down.