It is astounding how quickly the stupidity over “religious freedom” laws became a rallying cry for both sides of the LGBT divide. What was even more surprising is the deer in the headlights reaction from governors and state legislators who should have known better than to try to pass laws that invoke religious freedom in a way guaranteed to create controversy. The sad part is that all of this was avoidable and could have been used to support free enterprise. Instead, fools opened their mouths and the wrong words came out.
LGBT discrimination is a problem if you make it one
Pro-business conservatives have been pointing their fingers at Democrats for years over anti-business regulations and the negative climate for free enterprise that liberal state legislatures have nurtured. With Obama overseeing the passage of restrictive business regulation in bills like the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank, the time is ripe to make a statement about business freedom. If conservatives wanted to make that statement over whether businesses should be forced to serve customers, this was their chance to take a stand. They blew it.
Anyone who has worked in a business knows that there are two kinds of customers. Some are good. Some are bad. Customers can be abusive. They can refuse to pay their bills. They can return merchandise they have damaged. They can write false and damaging online reviews. They can even file frivolous lawsuits, especially when trendy anti-discrimination laws encourage them. Should business owners have to worry that a customer who bounced a check will charge discrimination because of who they have sex with?
One of the great things about free enterprise is that businesses take up slack. A need not met by one storefront will be addressed by another. Forcing businesses to serve customers they don’t want to serve is not only bad for business, it is absolutely pointless. It ignores the realities of a free market that creates opportunity wherever a demand is not being met. Conservative businesspeople know this and despite our suspicions that so many in state and federal government would be incapable of holding down a real job in a real business we have to suspect that they know it, too. So what happened?
How did pro-business turn anti-gay?
Conservatives are just as guilty as liberals when it comes to sticking their foot in a door to make a point. The push to make the LGBT lifestyle trendy and popular is just too good for either side to give up. We have already trekked down the religious freedom path with gay marriage. That didn’t work, perhaps because restricting people is about less freedom, not more.
The White House has done its part to whip up the LGBT rights controversy. Casting as large a net as possible over anyone who might vote Democratic, the president used sexual preference to extend his conviction that America is fundamentally unfair when he signed an executive order banning LGBT discrimination:
For more than two centuries, we have strived, often at great cost, to form “a more perfect union” — to make sure that “we, the people” applies to all the people. Many of us are only here because others fought to secure rights and opportunities for us.1
Obama forgot that the popularity of kowtowing to LGBT interests for political purposes is a lot more recent than the founding of this country. He also forgot that his administration has focused on ignoring “we, the people” in favor of minorities, non-citizens, and special interests that are easily manipulated to help push his agenda (see: American Values Demand Our Tolerance).
Conservative interests can also be easily manipulated. When Indiana and Arkansas took the bait, they made us all look like fools.
Fools miss an opportunity to strike a blow for business
In the end the religious freedom law controversy is less about liberals and more about the ongoing failure of conservatives to find a voice. With big government extending its control over what businesses must do to appease political supporters and special interests, whether they are unions, the underprivileged, or gay Americans, if something had to be said about whether businesses are required to serve customers there was a right way to say it. Once again, the right opted for a hot button and missed the boat.