Last week, a bill introduced in Washington state would allow people to use their “sincerely held religious beliefs” to justify discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation. Washington State activist, Jay Castro called state senator Mike Hewitt’s (R-Walla Walla) office to ask about Senator Hewitt’s co-sponsorship of SB 5927.
During the phone call, Castro said he asked staffers some variation of the question “What are rural gays supposed to do if the only gas station or grocery store for miles won’t sell them gas and food?”
One answer he got from Hewitt’s office shocked him with “Well gay people can just grow their own food.” The staffer allegedly refused to identify himself and asked Castro not to call the office again.
The question is a perfectly valid one. Conservatives often argue that if a florist, photographer, baker, or other business refuses service to a same-sex couples, there are plenty of others champing at the bit to support marriage equality. In urban areas, this may generally be true — but it’s not an argument that justifies discrimination. In rural areas, it may very well not be true. What if there is no local alternative? What if the only alternative is more expensive, of a lesser quality, or further away? The proposed bill doesn’t merely exempt those who provide services that might be related to weddings; it exempts all businesses. So it’s quite possible that a rural grocery store might be Christian-owned and attempt to refuse service to a same-sex family, and were this bill to become law, that would be perfectly legal.
What do you think about the staffer’s response?