Maybe The Message Is Getting Clear

Yesterday, California’s Supreme Court issued a decision that ordered a fertility clinic to make its artificial insemination services equally available to a lesbian as it did to a straight woman. This means that the lesbian will now be able to have a child with her partner (or wife, if they get married) and they will not need to have a man involved.

“But wait,” some might say. “What if the doctor has a legitimate ethical objection to homosexuals raising children? A legitimate ethical objection, well-grounded in the moral teachings of a widely-accepted religion like, say, Christianity?”

To this argument, the Supreme Court said “There is no legitimate objection to discriminating against homosexuals.” More specifically:

Do the rights of religious freedom and free speech, as guaranteed in both the federal and the California Constitutions, exempt a medical clinic’s physicians from complying with the California Unruh Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation? Our answer is no.

Again, an example by way of substitution makes it really easy to understand why this should be the case. What would you think of a doctor who withheld fertility services from an African-American woman but provided them to a woman of European descent? Easy call. What about a doctor who dispensed those services to Catholics but not Mormons? Again, an easy call. Both kinds of withholding could be justified by a reasonable reading of Biblical commands,* but there is no doubt that the law should reach a different result.

Now, do you really think the homosexual chose to be that way? What rational person would choose a lifestyle that involved facing that much discrimination, if it were just a choice? Gay people are gay because that’s what they are; they have no more ability to control their homosexuality than they do their height, race, or their eye color. So it’s unfair to discriminate against them because of something they can’t control. And if a gay person is gay, so what? How does that hurt you? If a gay person has sex with another gay person, again, how does that pick your pocket or beat you up? And even if that really is contrary to God’s laws, isn’t that between God and the sinner? Despite all of these objections, some people continue to insist that religion justifies their bigotry against gays.

As has been pointed out in many ways and in many places, by many people, gay people cannot conceive through their ordinary sex practices. So if a gay person wants to have a kid, that person has to go well out of his or her way to do it. The sort of person who will do that is much more likely than the sort of person who wakes up and says, “Holy crap! We’re pregnant! What are we going to do?” to be a good parent. Yes, people in that second category often turn out to be very good parents. But there are a lot of crappy parents out there, too. So letting gay people have kids is a way of increasing the percentage of children who grow up with parents who love and care for them. It’s also worth noting that fertility services are expensive and not covered by most kinds of medical insurance, so the sort of person who would use these services is more likely than others to be in a position to provide for the material needs of the child, too.

But this is getting away from the point, which is simply this: it is not legitimate, ever, to use your religion as a gloss for your bigotry. It diminishes the ethical force of religion and it causes people to be treated poorly on the basis of matters over which they have no control or choice and which hurt no one.

I’m well aware that not all religious people discriminate against homosexuals and those who do not — in particular, those who caution their co-religionists against doing so — are to be commended. Rather, it is those sorts of people who would marshal religion in the defense of bigotry who earn this morning’s sneer, and who are on the receiving end of the Supreme Court’s decision.

* Both kinds of withholding could be condemned on the basis of other kinds of commands to the faithful in the Bible, too. It’s a question of which passage you select and how you interpret and apply it and in fact I rather suspect that the better interpretation of the Christian religion is that a Christian dispensing medical services ought to treat everyone the same way, with charity and love — which, come to think of it, is how an atheist or a follower of a different religion ought to act, too. I view religion and the Bible as neutral in this question — the aim of my condemnation is not religion but rather those who would invoke it to cloak their own misconduct.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.