Following the Supreme Court's decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, we are taking an in-depth look at how religious freedom is increasingly being distorted and exploited to justify discrimination against LGBT people, women, and others. This six-part series examines the resulting consequences through the firsthand accounts of those who have experienced it. You can read more from the series here.
In 2010, my daughter Ming told me that she was going to marry the love of her life: her partner, Kate. The joy of that moment for our family was indescribable; when they asked me to help plan their wedding reception, I jumped with joy and enthusiasm.
I was in charge of finding a venue for the reception in Vermont, where they planned to marry. After some research, I came across the Wildflower Inn. It was the perfect spot, just what my daughter had hoped for—beautiful Vermont setting with expansive green lawns and gardens. In big letters, the website proclaimed: “Four Seasons for Everyone.”
But as I soon learned, “everyone” did not include my daughter and her fiancée, or other same-sex couples. When I initially spoke with an employee at the Wildflower Inn, I casually remarked that the reception would involve two brides. I didn’t think anything of it: Marriage equality had been legalized in Vermont in 2009, and it was also the first state to legalize civil unions. I just assumed that in a state as progressive as Vermont, with a statute that includes sexual orientation as a protected class, the idea of two brides wouldn’t be an issue for businesses.
Just minutes after speaking with the employee, I received an email with the subject line “bad news.” It read, “After our conversation, I checked in with my innkeepers and unfortunately, due to their personal feelings, they do not host gay receptions at our facility.”
The words were jarring. I read it again, then once more. I was angry. I was heartbroken. In refusing to serve my Ming and her Kate, it felt like the Inn was telling me that my daughter’s love was somehow not worthy of service, or even of recognition. Vermont had passed a law protecting LGBT people from discrimination by businesses open to the public, but the Inn’s owners used their personal religious beliefs to justify their discrimination against Ming and Kate.
My feelings of frustration and shock began to change into fear. It upset me to think that Ming would have to be afraid of this kind of discrimination in her everyday interactions—that she and Kate could be rejected by any business claiming objection to who they are, treated differently just because of who they love.
Ming and Kate filed a discrimination complaint in Vermont, and ultimately their case settled. But they still live with the fear that they could face the same type of discrimination at any moment, so long as equal protections are not guaranteed to everyone.
In response to Ming and Kate’s case—and other stories infuriatingly like theirs— I’ve heard some people say, Can’t you go to a different reception venue? or Can’t they get a cake somewhere else? The harsh reality is that for many LGBTQ people, going somewhere else simply isn’t an option.
Discrimination leaves people feeling less worthy, and often less than human. Discrimination hurts, humiliates, and demeans people like my daughter and her wife.
But this isn’t about wedding venues or cakes. It’s about discrimination. Discrimination leaves people feeling less worthy, and often less than human. Discrimination hurts, humiliates, and demeans people like my daughter and her wife. It tells people, “You are not as good as the rest of us and, and you do not deserve to be treated the same as the rest of us.”
And this type of discrimination is not only taking place in businesses that are open to the public—it’s being encouraged by leaders in Washington D.C. On February 1, 2017, just days after President Trump took office, a draft executive order leaked from the White House revealed plans to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ Americans and many other vulnerable populations under the guise of “religious freedom.”
The president signed a revised version of the executive order in May, just several months before Trump’s Department of Justice filed a brief with the Supreme Court, siding with a bakery that had turned away a gay couple in violation of Colorado’s nondiscrimination law. In June, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the business. This administration has made it clear they think that businesses should have a right to violate longstanding laws against discrimination, allowing them to turn away LGBT Americans—or any American—if they choose to.
It’s time we all say that enough is enough, and raise our voices to make it clear that discrimination should never be acceptable in America. Civil rights are guaranteed to all Americans in the Constitution. No one American has the right to deny rights to another.
This is not about whether Ming and Kate could find another wedding reception venue, or whether Charlie and Dave, the couple from the Supreme Court case, could find another bakery. It’s about whether we all should have the ability to walk into a public business and know we will be served without fear of being rejected or humiliated. This is about whether the 750,000 same-sex couples living in America, like Ming and Kate, are worthy of the same dignity and equal treatment as everyone else, in a country that prides itself on “liberty and justice for all”.