Even in the darkness of battle, with the gunsmoke clouding the horizon and obscuring the hills, the occasional glimpse of sunlight may cut through the fog, lifting the warrior’s spirits so that he may continue the fight. That glimpse of sunlight comes to us courtesy of a Kentucky trial court judge, who has ruled that t-shirt printing company Hands On Originals did not engage in unlawful discrimination when they refused to print a gay pride message on a t-shirt.
The ruling stand out dramatically against a rollcall of court decisions that have come down against business owners who want to retain their right to religious freedom. Bakers, florists, and even farm owners have been pinched for refusing to participate in gay weddings. This is one of the first times in recent memory that a judge seems to have noticed that there is a vast gulf between refusing to provide a product and refusing to serve a customer.
Perhaps this one is easier, because the delineation is clearer. Hands On Originals did not turn away the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization. The GLSO would have been perfectly free to purchase t-shirts displaying any number of possible messages and slogans. What Hands On Originals refused to do was to print messages that supported a gay pride festival. It helped that HOO was able to provide examples of 13 previous times it had refused to produce a product, including instances where the desired message promoted strips clubs, pornography, and violence.
In the end, the judge found there was no compelling governmental interest in forcing Hands On Originals to betray their religious beliefs. And though we should be thankful for whatever small victories we can get in this war, we cannot be satisfied until this line of reasoning is applied to any other business owner who wishes to retain the right to his conscience.
This isn’t about discriminating against gay people. It never has been. If it was, then we could talk about that on its own terms. This is about gay weddings. This is about gay messages. This is about whether or not an event enjoys constitutional protections. And the obvious answer is no.
The hypocrisy of these decisions has already been exposed by people who have been turned away when they ask for anti-gay messages. There have been several incidents of this happening, and officials and courts and lawyers for the ACLU have all said that it’s just fine. But that can’t be. If it’s fine one way, then it must be fine the other way. Again, no one is talking about turning gay people away at the door. We are only talking about whether or not a business owner is required to print any message, bake any cake, and provide flowers for any event that is asked of them. And that is patently absurd.