Sunday, July 5, 2015

Coming Soon: 1964, Revisited

In April 1964, Anne Newman attempted to walk into one of Maurice Bessinger's BBQ restaurants and sit down for a meal. She was barred from doing so by the owner on religious grounds.

Maurice Bessinger was a pretty scummy guy as you can read about here among other places. Although, to be fair, his barbeque sauce is terrific. What he was first and foremost, was an evangelical who attempted to refuse service to African Americans on the grounds that it was against his religious beliefs.

So Anne Newman did what people of the time, and to some extent today, still do, she sued. And won in an 8-0 shutout (It should be noted that Thurgood Marshall abstained). The case, Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, is really more noteworthy in legal circles for establishing the ground work by which people who sue and win Civil Rights cases can have the defendant pay their attorney's fees, but I mention it because I think, ultimately, it's going to come into play on fairly short order for another reason.

On the fringes of the news recently are those private business owners, the cake bakers, photographers, florists and pizza places, who refuse to serve gay couples. They do so due to religious objections.

Clearly,  some states, such as Oregon, address this type of discrimination already, and we see certain well deserved victories when state legislatures attempt to push anti-gay measures  in places such as Indiana and Louisiana.

But if you're looking for proof that while history doesn't repeat itself, it does rhyme, get ready for another visit from Good Ole Boy and virulent racist Maurice Bessinger, because the parallels between how people like him treated African Americans in the wake of the Civil Rights Act are likely to manifest themselves in the wake of Obergfell v. Hodges. Only this time, there is no sweeping Civil Rights Act to defend against.

My own personal opinion that you shouldn't be able to refuse to do any aspect of your job due to religious reasons, and that includes pharmacists and the Morning After Pill aside, I do think the legal minefield we're likely to end up walking through in the post gay marriage Equal Protection Clause enforcement world will be an interesting one. It's one thing to gain equal protection under the law, it's another to gain it within your own community. Rather than one sweeping Civil Rights Act, what we're likely to see are dozens of state legislative fights over the coming years, and lawsuits around those fights, unless and until we have a Congress willing to step in and codify anti-discrimination measures for the LGBT community. (And I wouldn't look for that until after 2020).

While the moral arc of the universe is long, ultimately, it does bend toward justice. Just ask Maurice Bessinger's kids.