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    Ann Rostow: Family Values

    By Ann Rostow–

    Family Values

    Whenever I have a deadline, I find myself surprisingly absorbed by arcane newspaper articles and websites. So far this morning, I’ve read about the effects of creatine, the possibility that there’s a secret room behind King Tut’s tomb, and the alarming news from Nextdoor that a mean stranger tailgated one of my neighbors. 

    And there’s much more. I don’t normally wade through Paul Krugman’s economic essays, but I did today. I also finished four crossword puzzles, the Wordle, and The New Yorker “name drop” quiz, which I failed, as usual. Colson Whitehead? Not even The Nickel Boys helped me, even though I read it earlier this year. One time I got the “name drop” answer after one clue, but it was Martina Navratilova. 

    I suppose now is the time to start my column, which despite my procrastinations, I actually enjoy writing. I see on a Christian news website that the Petit Robert French dictionary is changing its definition of “family,” which up to now has read (in translation obviously): “Related persons living under the same roof, and especially, the father, the mother, and the children.” After a gay group objected, the publishers came up with the more inclusive: “one parent or two, with their children,” drawing the ire of rightwing watchdogs who insisted the Petit Robert is “disconnecting words from their meaning in reality.”

    It’s one thing to disapprove of gay parents, but it’s another to decide that a same-sex couple with kids is not a “family.” Webster has eight entries for the noun, beginning with “the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children,” and we have yet to hear of Christians objecting to this definition on this side of the Atlantic, let alone calling it divorced from reality. Maybe, unlike their French co-religionists, they haven’t thought it through.

    Cake Wars

    A state court judge in Bakersfield has ruled in favor of Cathy Miller, yet another Christian baker who declined to make a plain white three-tiered cake for two lesbians renewing their vows. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Miller on behalf of the women, arguing that the denial of services violated the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which bans sexual orientation discrimination in public accommodations (among other things). Miller mitigated her rejection by sending the women to a gay-friendly bakery, but according to the opinion, the women found the cakes over there were too sweet. Plus, I imagine they sued as a matter of principle.

    These cases are anything but cut and dried, and it’s clear that Miller has every right to refuse custom-made cakes that include designs she doesn’t like. She can even refuse to make a cake that reads “Congratulations, Beth and Sue!” What she can’t do, in my view, is refuse to make a plain cake based on her right not to be associated with a same-sex wedding. According to the opinion, the cake service includes setting up the cake and presenting it at the wedding. But Miller could easily make the cake and require the women to take possession of it at the bakery. She could even disassociate herself by making sure that her name and company were not revealed to the guests. But please don’t tell me that baking a generic unmarked cake violates your religious freedom when it is served at a gay event. It doesn’t. Nor is it forced speech. It’s just a cake. As a general rule, employers and businesses must make reasonable accommodations to respect religious freedoms. Yet these reasonable accommodations seem only to travel in one direction. 

    In the “Statement of Facts,” Judge Eric Bradshaw fairly swooned with appreciation for the defendant: “Miller is a married woman of sincere Christian faith. She and her husband of over 40 years met at church, where her husband was formerly a church youth director,” the opinion tells us. “Miller was a school teacher for approximately 30 years while she raised a family and also pursued interests in floral arranging, event planning, and baking. In 2013, she started ‘Tastries.’”

    Forgive my cynicism, but the legal issues here are not in the least influenced by Miller’s long marriage, interest in flower arranging, or the “sincerity” of her faith. I couldn’t help but notice the lack of biographical data on the two women, Eileen Rodriguez-dol Rio and Mireya Rodriguez-del Rio. What hobbies do they have? Are they nice people too?

    The opinion goes on to tell us that the introductory question for all Tastries bakery designs asks: “Is it lovely, praiseworthy, or of good report?” Tastries will not design cakes with sexual content, portrayals of violence, gore, witches, or demonic content. And wedding cakes “must not contradict God’s sacrament of marriage between a man and a woman.” Again, there’s nothing discriminatory in these prudish standards. If I ran a bakery, I wouldn’t make Nazi cakes or anything with carrots. But the word “design” has a meaning. And the “design” of an unmarked white cake does not “contradict God’s sacrament of marriage between a man and a woman.” The customers are the problem for Miller, not the cake. 

    I could go on. There’s the transgender cake case that brings up a more nuanced set of issues, and, of course, we will see oral arguments on the Colorado web designer’s Free Speech case before the High Court next month. But before we leave the subject, it’s worth reviewing the words of Justice Kennedy in Masterpiece Cakeshop, cited here by Judge Bradshaw in seeming contradiction to his eventual ruling:

    “The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths. Nevertheless, while those religious and philosophical objections are protected, it is a general rule that such objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law. 

    “When it comes to weddings, it can be assumed that a member of the clergy who objects to gay marriage on moral and religious grounds could not be compelled to perform the ceremony without denial of his or her right to the free exercise of religion … . Yet if that exception were not confined, then a long list of persons who provide goods and services for marriages and weddings might refuse to do so for gay persons, thus resulting in a community-wide stigma inconsistent with the history and dynamics of civil rights laws that ensure equal access to goods, services, and public accommodations.”

    Emphasis mine.

    No Promo Porno

    As we last went to press, Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana introduced a lovely little gem called the “Stop the Sexualization of Children Act,” aimed at removing federal funding from any “sexually oriented” program or event aimed at kids under ten “and for other purposes.” If you put it that way, none of us are opposed to keeping kids away from porn, although all they have to do these days is memorize Dad’s iPhone password and locate Pornhub. That said, by all means let them discover the seedy underpinnings of the adult world on their own time, just like we had to. Why should tax payers help them out?

    However, the objective here has little to do with “sexually oriented” programs and everything to do with outlawing public references to the GLBT community. While heterosexuality is an anodyne adjective, homosexuality seems by definition to refer to sex acts of some sort rather than regular people going about their lives. But if GLBT topics are “sexually oriented,” then so are heterosexual topics, ergo let’s all limit our talks with small children to their established areas of expertise: dinosaurs and snacks. 

    “The Democrat Party and their cultural allies are on a misguided crusade to immerse young children in sexual imagery and radical gender ideology,” Lee said in a statement. You know, a few years ago a comment like this would provoke ridicule. Now it’s just routine political discourse. Meanwhile, it’s unclear what the “other purposes” might include. Everything under the sun, I’m guessing.

    Guys … Don’t Try This at Home

    Here’s an item I thought was about a gay man, but on closer inspection has nothing to do with our demographic whatsoever. It’s about a straight plastic surgeon in Germany who killed his female lover by covering his penis with cocaine, getting oral sex from her, and thus triggering an overdose. I’m not sure I follow the logistics here. Wouldn’t most of the coke fall off? How did she ingest a fatal amount in this fashion? However it transpired, she died in 2018, but the doctor, Andreas David Niederbichler, has just now been ordered to settle the dead woman’s medical bills and funeral expenses. 

    According to The Daily Mail, Niederbichler drugged a number of other women with cocaine (a crime which some legal experts refer to as “partying”), but they apparently suffered no ill effects, let alone death. The doctor was handed a nine-year sentence for his role in the overdose. He claimed the woman knew about the coke. I’m no expert in fellatio but I think you’d notice a bunch of white powder all over the targeted area. 

    What Do You Say?

    I guess Kroger created a colorful logo for its uniforms, featuring a heart with a blue, red, and yellow stripe. The obligatory outfit looked too much like a rainbow for two employees in Arkansas, who refused to wear it based on their religious beliefs. Kroger, in turn, pointed out that it was not a rainbow, had nothing to do with pride, and disciplined both women in 2019. When the pair continued to defy the dress code, they were fired and sued with the help of our friends at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

    Now, Kroger has settled the case, paying the women a total of $180,000 and pledging to train workers to avoid religious discrimination. “A lot of people may look at this story and think Ms. Lawson, Ms. Rickerd, and myself, that we are these LGBTQ haters,” the women’s lawyer David Hogue told The Washington Post. “But we all have friends and loved ones—even family members—that fall into that category.” Hmmm, if you say so.

    Speaking of LGBTQ, I sort of agreed with a New York Times op-ed the other day, and my smile turned to a frown when I realized it was written by Pamela Paul, a conservative commentator who has the irritating habit of treating an obvious and well-hashed point as if it were a fresh spin on an intriguing idea. I wrote about her a few months ago when she exaggerated the use of politically correct vocabulary under the thesis that “women” were being erased by super woke leftists who insist on terms like “people who menstruate.” I mean, yes, it does happen, but not too often. It can be eye-rolling, but no, it’s not a problem.

    This time, Paul wrote a piece titled (by the Times editors, I assume) as “Let’s Say Gay,” which decries the use of “queer” or “LGBTQ” to encompass gay men and lesbians. Who decides what words are used, when, she wonders? What happens when gay people disagree?

    Hey, I far prefer “gay” to “queer” myself, and for many of the reasons Paul notes. “Queer” has a much wider meaning, includes many categories, and evokes weirdness. “Gay” just includes men and women, and its secondary meanings include fun and happiness. I’m also not fond of “lesbian,” but that’s my own prejudice and I think it’s a generational quirk. As for acronyms, they are a necessary evil, but at one point I picked “GLBT” and I’m sticking with it when discussing our community as a whole.

    The problem with her essay is that no one has abandoned the words “gay” or “lesbian.” Instead, people use “queer” or “LGBTQ” as a catchall. Like the trans-inclusive nomenclature of her earlier essay, this is simply not a problem. As for who decides, well, there is no decision, there is only the gradual evolution of language. That said, sometimes columnists have to generate their own controversies in order to fill space, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.

    GLBT Fortnight in Review
    Published on November 3, 2022