By Stephen Richer
You *might* have heard that Arizona almost passed a bill (SB-1062) that would have allowed for-profit businesses to deny services to gay Arizonans. (Actual bill; Wikipedia page on SB-1062). Republican Governor Jan Brewer ultimately vetoed the bill, but only after it sent the country, and especially the Republican Party, into a dizzy. Prominent Republicans such as John McCain, Jeff Flake, and Mitt Romney opposed the bill, while, at the same time, the bill passed the Arizona Congress on the backs of state Republicans. The national Republican party has been just as divided. And it has been divided even within certain sides. For instance, libertarian faithfuls such as PE friend Ilya Shapiro and yours truly supported the bill because we’re generally skeptical of legislation that intrudes in the private workplace. And, of course, groups such as The Heritage Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom marshaled similar language, though their opposition likely stemmed from a general opposition to anything that could be labeled “the homosexual agenda” (yes, ADF really does sell this book).
One of the more active critics of the bill was Gregory T. Angelo (“GA” below), executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR). During the week of Gov. Brewer’s decision, Angelo appeared on multiple television programs (see, e.g., The Blaze and MSNBC with Chris Hayes), spoke with multiple newspapers (see, e.g., The Washington Blade), and issued multiple LCR press releases. Greg is a friend of this blog (we regularly report on the activities of our allies, LCR) and kindly agreed to take a few questions about the fallout from SB-1062.
Stephen Richer (SR): Must be an exciting time to be at the helm of Log Cabin Republicans: Supreme Court decisions (on gay marriage), state legislative action (on gay marriage), highly competitive gay Republican candidates for the U.S. House, ENDA, oh my! Have you experienced increased interest in Log Cabin Republicans, both in terms of supporters and in terms of inclusion in the conversation about the future of the Republican Party?
Gregory Angelo (GA): This is an amazing time for anyone to be a part of Log Cabin Republicans! We’re making history across the country right now, and I think common-sense conservatives are coming to the rational conclusion that if full equality is going to be a reality for gay Americans, it’s going to require Republicans to make the case to other Republicans. I continue to be amazed at the numbers of new members who join Log Cabin Republicans every day, and I’m deeply proud of those long-time members who have been a part of this organization for decades whose grassroots work in states like California, Texas, Florida, and elsewhere has led to victories for equal rights and GOP wins at the ballot box. What’s really exciting is the number of people I’ve been hearing from of late in deep red states who want to get a formal Log Cabin Republican Chapter going in their neck of the woods — people who want to make the conservative case for equality at the tip of the spear to those people who need to hear the message of Log Cabin Republicans the most.
SR: Turning to SB-1062, you successfully opposed the bill. Do you think there is room for future legislation of this variety? Or do you think people like Elaine Huguenin of Elane Photography v. Willock should be swept into the historical dustbin just as the law has done with the private business owners who would deny black Americans a seat the diner counter?
GA: While it may be premature to declare the push for these so-called “religious liberty” bills dead, the momentum that was building for them around the country was checked in a major way with Governor Brewer’s veto of SB-1062. The bills that were moving through state houses elsewhere stopped in their tracks. Part of that is likely political — I believe Republicans do not want to give the left fodder in an election year that should be a slam dunk for us, and the furor around SB-1062 showed that this is not a winning issue for Republicans, election year or not.
SR: In your debate on The Blaze with Heritage Foundation’s Ryan T. Anderson, you expressed concern that religious people are granted a special right to discriminate. Presumably this stems from something of an establishment clause jurisprudence, dictating that religious people shouldn’t be given special liberties over non-religious people. Would you be OK with the bill if it had just said “anyone with a conscientious objection?”
GA: Often libertarians like Andrew Wilkow on The Blaze and religious fellows like Ryan T. Anderson at the Heritage Foundation will oppose equal rights for gay Americans on the grounds that gay people are asking for “special rights.” My point on The Blaze was that many of the same people who decry “gay rights” as “special rights” found themselves in a position with SB-1062 where they were asking for special rights for themselves as people of faith. The irony was too rich not to point out. To your question: I would not be ok with a bill that said “anyone with a conscientious objection,” because it would be incredibly difficult to define what a “conscientious objection” would be. As a matter of policy and in accordance with our mission, Log Cabin Republicans opposes any legislation that would codify discrimination into law.
SR: You also expressed on The Blaze concern for gay patrons who might not have another service provider to turn to if rebuffed by a bigoted, anti-gay business owner (this was not the case in Elane Photography, where there were plenty of other wedding photographers). Could this be solved with an undue hardship clause? Something to the effect that if the provider is the only show in town, it can’t discriminate?
GA: This would open a Pandora’s Box in which lawmakers — or worse, bureaucrats — would be forced to pick and choose which types of businesses could be exempt from service to the public and which could not. The simple answer is usually the best, and in this case the simple answer is that “open to the public” means just that: open to everyone.
SR: In his prelude to his talk with you, Chris Hayes of MSNBC said (perhaps inexact quote): “Opposing marriage equality is essential if you want to be a leader of the Republican Party.” Agree or disagree? Do you think a pro-marriage quality Republican will run for Republican Presidential nominee in 2016?
GA: Chris said that “opposing marriage equality is mandatory if you want to be a leader in the Republican Party today.” Clearly I disagree. In his preamble Chris attempted to back up his claims with quotes from Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain as well as Mitt Romney, as though they were the standard-bearers of the GOP, while making no mention of the support for marriage equality by Republican Senators Murkowski, Portman, and Kirk. Those are Party leaders, too. I’d also point out that opposing marriage equality was mandatory if you wanted to be a leader in the Democratic Party in 2008. As for the 2016 ticket, time will tell. It’s important to point out that both Governors Christie and Martinez, from New Jersey and New Mexico, respectively — both named as potential GOP Presidential candidates — have seen marriage equality realized in their states during their tenure in office, and both allowed court rulings in favor of marriage equality stand. So there is definitely more potential there than one might think.
SR: Do you think a bill allowing small, non-essential businesses to discriminate against gay Americans could pass if combined with a bill that simultaneously granted gay marriage to the state (Arizona does not allow for gay marriage, nor would SB-1062 have changed that. No state to date has exempted for-profit businesses, no matter how small their size nor how expressive their profession).
GA: No. I have always supported amendments to marriage equality bills that allow for ministerial religious exemptions — in fact, in states where marriage equality has passed with religious exemptions, it was GOP members of the legislatures who stood up to ensure religious liberty for places of worship and the individual liberty granted in marriage equality were part of the final bills — but that’s a far cry from a “license to discriminate” bill for a for-profit business, and as a strategy to pass marriage equality I’d see it as dead on arrival.
SR: Eugene Volokh and Ilya Shapiro wrote a few days ago in the Wall Street Journal that “Choosing What to Photography Is a Form of Speech.” Do you buy that argument — that Elaine Huguenin is protected because she’s “speaking,” but that Bob’s Burger Joint couldn’t similarly deny service to gay Americans because burger-making isn’t similarly expressive?
GA: It’s an interesting argument, but Elaine Huguenin’s photography of a gay commitment ceremony would not reflect an endorsement of homosexuality or even same-sex marriage, which seems to be the basis of her case. And if we’re going to make exemptions for artists under the banner of Freedom of Speech, I’d take your hypothetical one step farther and ask why a photographer could claim a license to discriminate but if Bob’s Burgers was asked to cater a same-sex ceremony Bob would not be able to make a similar claim, simply because he was in the burger biz. The best answer is the LCR position: codifying discrimination into law is wrong.
SR: Thanks so much Gregory. We might not see perfectly eye-to-eye on this one, but we’re proud of all the excellent work Log Cabin is doing, and we can’t wait to see what you do next!
GA: Thanks! Lots in the pipeline at Log Cabin Republicans in the coming months — stay tuned!