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I Can’t "Celebrate," But It Doesn’t Mean I Hate You

Ashley Marinaccio (via Flickr/CC)

Steve C. Craig - published on 07/21/15

It is time we rediscovered the validity of conscientious objection

From left to right, the car ahead’s bumper stickers read: “Hatred is Not a Family Value,” “Celebrate Diversity” (in rainbow colors), and “Obama-Biden.”

Collectively, these refreshed my growing fear that I should soon “celebrate” certain lifestyle choices or suffer the consequences. There was once another option, but memory of it is fading rapidly like an image in my rear view mirror.

Both the imperative tone and intolerance of the bumper messages are troubling; as is the shallow and muddled thinking behind them. A polite “no thank you” is now an unacceptable response to the colorful and demanding “celebrate”. It is time we rediscovered the validity of conscientious objection.

Conscientious objection is objection to an act, not a person. Equating conscientious objection with bigotry is unkind and a particularly egregious kind of ignorance. And restricting and penalizing the exercise of religiously-informed civil rights is simply wrong — though in modern parlance it is “evolved” behavior.

Two examples might help.

First, most would agree that a manufacturer of forceps has the right not to sell her product to an abortion clinic, due to a conscientious objection to dismemberment.

Forceps play a direct and key role in late-term abortion, an act many Americans consider immoral. This act is the basis of the forceps maker’s objection; not the sex, race or sexual orientation of the clinic’s staffers, customers or victims. The objection concerns the act, and the same is true for any vendor or employer who would refuse to enable an abortion.

Returning to “celebrate”, consider cakes or photographs at gay weddings. Gay weddings are also acts, not people. The difference is real, although in some circles conflating acts and people produces the ugly charge of bigot against those who would avoid celebrating.

Like forceps, these cakes and photos play a material role in an act many find immoral. Their materiality is confirmed by the importance assigned them by both sides of a very intense debate, one that recently played out in Indiana over a religious freedom law.

However, even though religiously-informed bakers and photographers object to material cooperation in gay weddings, their doors are open to homosexuals for the purchase of regular cakes and every day photographs. This is important. It tells us that participation in the act of gay marriage is found unconscionable, but not the customers themselves.

Bigotry, on the other hand, is comprehensive, more proactive, much more personal and far less nuanced – lynching being an extreme, but crystallizing example.

Yet it is the unjust charge of bigotry that is masking the broad daylight theft of the right to conscientious objection. Many are confused and this confusion results directly from a media-induced failure to think, loud and hysterical demagoguery, and an aggressive and unprincipled quest by some to have their sexual choices celebrated and publicly validated, though this is not a right.

Out of guilt and fear citizens have succumbed to a widely promoted fiction that wedding cakes and photos are a homosexual civil rights issue; that this is Selma all over again; and that discrimination against homosexual persons across numerous goods and services is a big problem, leading to disenfranchisement, segregation, exploitation and violence. It is not, and to assert that it is makes light of Selma.

Homosexuals have equal access to goods and services, cakes and photos, in all but one scenario: an act in which some religious people would prefer not to participate. If Selma’s biggest problem were that a few Black residents could get cake all of the time from most bakers but only 95 percent of the time from the rest, Selma’s movies would have been much better attended than Selma’s marches.

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