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The Arizona bill on gays—payback time for fanatics

by Mark Paredes

February 25, 2014 | 11:35 pm

More than a decade ago, the parents of one of my high-school friends started letting the notorious white supremacist preacher James Wickstrom use his furniture store as the venue for his hate-filled speeches. According to Wickstrom, Jews are the evil spawn of Eve and Satan and deserved to be killed. Both the nearby synagogue and the FBI were alarmed, and the store was monitored closely for any sign of crazies who might be willing to act on Wickstrom’s suggestions. After more than three years of hosting these uplifting sermons, my friend’s parents awoke one day to discover that their store had been torched. I don’t believe that the arsonist was ever apprehended. They decided to close the furniture store and open a small water conditioning business on the same site. My friend’s father died a few years later, and to the best of my knowledge he never asked Wickstrom and his ilk to preach at the new business, although the “reverend” did officiate at the man’s funeral.

I thought of the furniture store in my hometown when I heard that the Arizona legislature had passed a bill (currently awaiting the governor’s signature) that would allow businesses in the state to refuse to serve gay customers if doing so would violate their religious beliefs. Supporters of the bill claim that it protects religious freedom, while opponents believe that it sanctions bigotry and intolerance. Similar bills are being considered by legislatures in states across the country, including Utah.

Since many Arizona legislators are Mormons, I have been asked repeatedly in the past week whether there is a Mormon prohibition on providing services to gays. I’m happy to clarify in this public space that there is nothing in our teaching that prohibits a Mormon baker, photographer, florist, etc., from offering his services to a same-sex couple. If a Mormon does refuse to offer services to gay couples, he is acting out of his own personal conviction, not because his church is directing him to do so. The only exception, of course, would be if a same-sex couple asked an LDS clergyman to perform their wedding. As an LDS bishop, I am not allowed to officiate at a same-sex wedding or to allow church property to be used for a reception or other event connected with gay marriages.

The impetus for these bills was the shameful way in which religious people have been persecuted by gay-marriage fanatics in several states. Florists, bakers, and photographers have been successfully sued by outraged same-sex couples who firmly believe that the power of the state should be deployed on order to make them feel better about themselves. I am particularly offended by the persecution of the wedding photographer in New Mexico by that state’s supreme court, which said that he had broken the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to take pictures for a same-sex couple. 

If I were a florist, I would give the flowers to the two grooms and send them on their way. If I were a wedding cake maker, I would make the cake and send the two blushing brides on their way. However, a wedding photographer doesn’t have the option of staying away from the ceremony: He has to be there, he has to spend a lot of time interacting with the couple, and he has to document in photos a ceremony that he believes should not be taking place. If I were a wedding photographer, I would definitely refuse to attend a same-sex ceremony – and I would leave New Mexico immediately.

If gay-rights activists are wondering how such a bill could possibly pass, they should buy a big mirror. In the 90s, they used gay-rights laws to bash the Boy Scouts. Now they’re using gay-marriage legislation to persecute wedding photographers who don’t want to attend their ceremonies. I don’t blame traditional-marriage advocates for fighting back, though they may have overreached with this bill.

In modern-day America, which is not the Jim Crow South, the best solution is to let private businesses discriminate against whomever they wish, while also letting them experience the (non-legal) consequences of doing so. In the case of the furniture store owners mentioned above, by all accounts their business tanked after people found out about their bigotry. If any business open to the public in Los Angeles were to let it be known that it would not serve gays, it would be run out of town. I have no problem with gay activists protesting against businesses that they don’t like. However, I do object to their attempts to sanction people legally for having different opinions about gay marriage and gay rights. If a store put up a sign announcing that no Mormons would be served, I would not object. Mind you, I wouldn’t shop there, and I would encourage others to boycott the store as well. What I wouldn’t do is sue the owner for having a different opinion about the LDS Church. As long as gay-marriage fanatics try to use the power of the state to force people to think the way that they do, they deserve to have bills like this passed.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Mark Paredes is a Mormon bishop in Los Angeles. He has worked for the ZOA, the American Jewish Congress, and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. He has also served...

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