By Lori Heine
Okay, so Alan Sears, head of the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, didn’t actually say that. But after being refused service because of a moral principle, he sees how it feels to stand in LGBT people’s shoes. In an article in the Washington Times, Sears recounts that six months ago, when he asked a photographer to take his family’s picture for a Christmas card, she declined. “I oppose the goals and objective of your organization,” she told him in an email, “and have no interest in working on its behalf.”
Sears could have complained, but because he’s leading a court battle defending photographers, florists, caterers, and other merchants who refuse service for same-sex weddings, he conceded her point. “I think I’m a pretty nice guy,” said Sears, “and my family are kind folks, but to require this woman to portray me in a loving, family-centered way that is contrary to her view and her conscience, I think it would be an act of violence against her dignity.”
The ADF’s position is seen by many liberals as a carve-out of special exemptions for those who wish to discriminate specifically against gays citing religious objections, but who have no problem serving other “sinners.” An increasing number of people, however — including libertarians, same-sex marriage supporters, and even gays — agree that lawsuits against those refusing service for same-sex weddings might live to regret the precedent they set. “I would remind people in the [marriage equality] movement that the First Amendment has been their ally,” said University of Minnesota Law School professor Dale Carpenter. “We would not have the advancement of gay rights in this country without a libertarian-minded First Amendment.”
The ACLU, which filed a suit on behalf of a lesbian couple in New Mexico refused service by a photographer (Elane Photography v. Willock), stands today on the side of LGBT rights. Tomorrow, however, says the Times article, the situation may be reversed. “It’s not hard to imagine the ACLU’s rationale being used to compel a gay photographer to shoot photos at, say, a wedding ceremony at the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, or risk violating federal and state laws that forbid discrimination based on religion,” the article notes.
Some in the group of 18 wedding photographers filing briefs on behalf of Elane Photography, the defendant in the New Mexico case, are gay, according to Sears. Indeed, there are gay Christian businesspeople who would regard anti-gay potential clients as sinners and object to serving them. LGBT people of faith may find some encouragement in the fact that some on the other side of the longtime political divide may be beginning to see their point.
“To be told that I must take my talent and I must use it to glorify that which I find wrong or do not agree with is most troubling,” Sears remarked. “That’s why I support the right of this woman in California to tell me no. Even for a Christmas card.”
It may yet be news to Sears and his cohorts at the ADF that there are actually LGBT people who celebrate the religious meaning of Christmas. But some organizations long opposed to gay rights are beginning to concede that we have a legal right to freedom of conscience, too. Perhaps this signals that movement in favor of the ultimate recognition of our freedom of conscience, the right to marry, is now unstoppable.