Monday, April 4, 2016

Free to Believe, not to Act

    In 2011, Todd and Mark Wathen approached the owners of a bed and breakfast in Paxton, Illinois about hosting about hosting their wedding ceremony. The owners of the bed and breakfast were a Christian couple named Jim and Beth Walder who refused to host the wedding due to their religious beliefs that homosexuality is a sin. Mr. Walder is quoted as stating that, “Homosexuality is immoral and unnatural based on what the Bible says about it”. The Walders were fined fifteen thousand dollars to Todd and Mark Waten each , as well as numerous legal bills. The Walders will also be forced to be more fines if they continue to refuse to host homosexual weddings, but a statement released on their website held firm to their beliefs, “God's Word is the ultimate authority, infallible, and unchanging, consequently, we cannot host civil unions or gay marriages at Timber Creek Bed & Breakfast. It is not an issue of fairness or equality, but an issue of right and wrong. We cannot be part of what God condemns.”
    After same sex marriage became legal in the United States, issues similar to this one became commonplace. Businesses and individuals were refusing serve homosexual marriages, such as a Colorado court case where the court ruled against a baker who tried to cite religious belief as reason for not serving a gay couple. Comparisons have been made to the Civil Right’s era, that the backlash against homosexual couples is similar to the difficulties that African-Americans had in having use of the rights, even after being legally allowed them, due to discrimination. The problem with the comparison is that the homosexual marriage issue is inherently more religious. People cited religious reasons for disliking black people, but it was mainly a discrimination and seeing black people as inferior issue. To be sure, there are people who discriminate against homosexuals without religious reasons, but there are multiple religious texts that forbid same sex relationships. The Bible and the Quran both see homosexuality as something unnatural. 
    Dealing with an issue so religious means any laws establishing rights for homosexual couples, also has to deal with the freedom of religion clause and how citizens have the right to refuse homosexuals based on their religion. Comments on this story involved examples of both sides of the supporters of the issue, with some commenters saying how terrible people are that would refuse gay couples and others saying how evil homosexuals are due to their sin. Religious issues are much harder to deal with because they go beyond what your opinions are, to what your belief involves. There are many christians and muslims who support gay marriage, but there are also many against the issue. The main issue involving the Walders and other cases like theres is do your religious beliefs defend against criminal action. 
    Religion and law in the United States are heavily mixed, even with the separation of Church and State. When there is a competing governing set of rules to the laws of the land, the secular laws will not be able to govern as effectively. This can be seen in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, where sharia law is used along with their secular laws. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, homosexuality can be punished with death based on their interpretations of Islamic law. The religious and secular laws are so intertwined in those countries that a secular law accepting homosexuality would currently be next to impossible to achieve. In the United States, there is an insistence that we have a separation of Church and State while political candidates constantly reference their faith as reasons for supporting or not supporting different legislations. 

    If Church and State are separated, then religious belief cannot serve as a defense for criminal indictment. I personally disagree with the Walder’s opinion that being a Christian means that they have to be against gay marriage, but I do not think that they are terrible people for believing it. The Walders are welcome to their beliefs, but the act of refusing to serve a homosexual couple based upon their sexuality is illegal and should be punished as such. If there were not laws in place to prevent this discrimination, then I would advocate for those types of laws to be created, but I would not believe that the Walders should be punished in any legal capacity. Secular laws cannot work if they are being undermined by 20 different sets of religious laws. 


Matthew L. said...

I agree with your stance on this case that if you are a business owner, you are opening up your service to every possible consumer. Therefore, when the Walder's opened their bed and breakfast, they no longer possessed the rights to turn customers away because they held different beliefs. Simply, if the Walder's would like to honor their beliefs, and feel that in doing so they can not serve a certain group of people, for any reason, then they should close their business. Although I understand where many people would find an issue with this, I believe that there is no reason for a business operate if it is unable to treat all paying and mannered customers in a way that possesses common decency.

Rosalie said...

I think that gay marriage transcends the institution of religion because marriage itself is no longer a religious act because it is instituted by the government and is a social part of our culture rather than a religious one. Therefore I do not think that homophobes should get a religious exemption from serving gay couples getting married. If the couples are serious about not having sinners in their bed and breakfast, should couples staying there be required to prove they actually in a committed relationship to prevent the sin of adultery from occurring under their roof? (Well, the bed and breakfast is probably different from a sleazy motel, but hopefully you get my point)

Lucy Fishell said...

I agree with the comments above. Gay marriage is now legal in America, and using your religion as a viable defense to why you cannot cater to the needs of these people is incredibly problematic. If the Walder's are able to use this as an argument for why they aren't able to facilitate this wedding what is stopping others from arguing that due to their religious beliefs they're allowed to discriminate based on things like race, ability, etc.

Caroline S. said...

I agree with all three posts stating that the bed and breakfast should not be allowed to discriminate against this couple due to their sexual orientation. Illinois does not allow for discrimination based upon sexual orientation and so the Walders are violating this couple's right to service and their rights against discrimination. I disagree with Rosalie's comment that marriage is not longer a religious act because if it were solely a social part of our culture the Supreme Court would not have been involved in the decision-making process surrounding same-sex marriages in the United States. I do not believe that private businesses should be allowed to received religious exemptions, however that is not because I think we can devoid religion from the concept of marriage completely. Matrimony and the United States's definition of matrimony stems from religious beliefs and this religious foundation is one of the reasons that we continue to prohibit polygamy. I think that it is a bit foolish to believe that we exist in a post-religious society and that we can speak about society and religion as mutually exclusive entities.

Peter M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter M said...

The author of this post as well as the previous commentors seem to have no respect for the 1st Amendment. I think your understanding of religion as something that can always be separated into belief and action is misguided. For Christians like the Walders, the book of James is clear that faith without works is dead. In other words, not acting on their faith is the equivalent to having no faith. If individuals have no right to conduct their business in accordance to their religious beliefs, then there might as well not be a Free Exercise Claus. If you can't apply the Free Exercise Clause to this case for the reason that religion cannot transcend a secular law, then when can you ever apply it? The fact that the state is forcing the Walders to choose between their relatively harmless bed and breakfast business and supporting what they deem to be sin is extremely sad.