It’s been in the news for a couple of years now. Across the United States, small business owners have refused to provide services for same sex weddings. Just last month, in Longview, Texas, the owners of Kern’s Bakery, Edie Delorme and her husband, refused to bake a cake for an engaged gay couple, Ben Valencia and Luis Marmolejo. Ben and Luis have lived in rural Texas their entire lives and went to Kern’s Bakery with a photo of the wedding cake they wanted. Everything was going fine until Edie asked them, “Who’s this for?” The guys looked at each other, and then Edie said, “Sorry. We don’t provide cakes for homosexual marriages. That’s not in line with our values.”
I can relate a little bit to what happened to the couple. In 2003, my boyfriend and I decided to have a commitment ceremony. It wouldn’t have any legal meaning, but we wanted to have a party and express our love for each other in front of our friends. We went to a baker, looked through the catalogue and picked out a beautiful cake: milk chocolate frosting with shards of dark and white chocolate; the layers were held up with sticks. Very gay lumberjack chic.
When we were ready to order the cake, we were told that the owner of the bakery didn’t want to make that cake but would make a different cake. The one we picked out was too time-consuming. I was shocked. If you’re selling cakes, and I want you to bake one that is in your portfolio, you should make it. The owner didn’t have anything against gay relationships. She was just rude. This was our special day, and we were treated with disrespect. And it was more than a disappointment – it hurt.
But her refusal really had nothing to do with us. Thus, I can’t imagine how the gay couple in Texas felt. They walked into a store that advertises itself as a bakery and walked out with moral judgment about their “lifestyle”. At Sweet Cakes in Oregon, the owner quoted Leviticus 18:22 and called the lesbian couple an abomination. In my view, God will judge us. He doesn’t need or want help.
And that’s my real issue here. Unless you’re selling fortune cookies, people don’t come into bakeries for guidance on how to live their lives. If your religious beliefs are an important part of your business, then you have an obligation to be upfront about that. If you’re only comfortable baking wedding cakes for people who share your same religious beliefs, then call yourself Kern’s Bakery for Christians*. I put the asterisk because I think the bakery owners would have to post some guidelines on what their view of Christianity is because many Christians accept that two men or two women can love each other without eternal damnation resulting therefrom. And she would need to specify whether she would bake a cake for someone who was getting married for the second time and for a couple who had sex before marriage. Let me know before I walk into your store if you’re going to ask me all about my sex life before I order a pastry.
I know this will be controversial, but I’m ok if Edie and her husband believe that two men shouldn’t get married. And I’m ok if they don’t want to “participate” in a gay wedding. But I take issue with the way that they treated Ben and Luis. If you really believe that your religious belief prevents you from providing service to someone, why not discriminate against them in a less obvious manner? Edie could have pretended to check her date book and politely declined because of other commitments or given them a very high estimate for their cake. She didn’t have to tell them they were going to hell. Or as John Kasich said in the last Republican Presidential debate, “if you don’t agree with their lifestyle, say a prayer for them when they leave and hope they change their behavior.”
However, civility is a two-way street. I’m not only asking my fellow Christians to be more civil to gays and lesbians. I’m praying that those of us in the gay community can be more tolerant as well. My ideal would be that all Christians would be accepting of same-sex unions, but we’re not helping our cause when we call people bigoted because they don’t believe that God made us this way and it’s ok to be gay.
In our quest for full equality, we need to respect that some people have firmly-held beliefs that the Bible says being gay is a sin and that it’s wrong. Is it too much to ask for us to tolerate that view and not try to force them to do things they feel are against their faith? I know this will be controversial, but couldn’t a gay couple ask a photographer if she is comfortable taking photos at a gay wedding? A photographer is going to be at the ceremony and will be intimately involved in the entire day. His or her feelings about the day will directly impact the quality of the photos taken. I wouldn’t want someone who didn’t think my wedding day was special to be taking photos. As for someone who’s baking a cake, it depends on what’s involved. Melissa Klein at Sweet Cakes said that in order to bake a cake, she likes to know what dress the bride is wearing, where they’re going on their honeymoon and how the couple met. I can see where she would be uncomfortable asking all of these questions to a lesbian couple. But if a couple comes in and orders a wedding cake from your portfolio, then you should just bake the cake and move on.
Fortunately, gay rights have grown further and faster than I ever thought possible in my lifetime. Unfortunately, it’s gonna take some people a little while to catch up with this change.
For now, let’s call a truce in this Holy War and try to have each side respect the other a little bit more. Tolerance on both sides would go a long way. In the end, isn’t that what Jesus would want?