What else can you conclude when all of a sudden it becomes an issue that a commercial baker, true to his religious beliefs, doesn't want sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple? This nasty little brouhaha has erupted in several states in the past year (you can get up to speed on it here), with some spillover into this year's session of the South Dakota legislature, where Senate Bill 67, which you can read in full here, seeks to codify a merchant's right to refuse service to same-sex couples if the merchant's religious beliefs constrain him from doing so. Apparently, sexual orientation doesn't make the list of protected classes that must be served by merchants and service providers in this state, and the intent of SB 67 is to instituionalize a merchant's right of refusal to do business with same sex married couples.
I'm sympathetic to an extent, having some retail business interests. We merchants have our rights, the most basic of which is the right to refuse service to anyone, with the standard limitations for race, creed, color and national origin. But I've understood that the right of refusal is generally accepted to be exercisable when it comes to deportment of the patron--drunkenness, abusiveness, slovenliness, excessively public displays of affection, among others--not the personal beliefs or private behavior of the patron. As long as patrons are behaving in what most would consider civilized manners, who they are seems an unreasonable cause for denying service. Fact is, I'm surprised that any enterprise, the essence of which is to take in money, would turn away a customer for reasons of sexual orientation or marital status inconsistent with its proprietor's beliefs. But apparently, that's just me.
A slug of South Dakota's elected officials--SB 67 was jointly introduced by 14 senators and 12 representatives--must think I have it wrong. They want to make sure that a business can put up a sign that says "Sorry, We Don't Serve Same Sex Married Couples Here." More power to them, I guess, but you can substitute a lot of names and phrases for the italicized words that have occupied similar signs in the past. And as with those others, you can bet that the signage proposed by SB 67 will wind up in History's dumpster. SB 67's supporters are just flailing away in a futile effort to hold back our country's natural process of transformation, which, whether they like it or not, seems to be more accommodating to the presence of homosexuals in the mainstreams of our institutions, including marriage, than it ever was. Political agendas of supportive officials in Pierre notwithstanding, I have no doubt that even if this bill passes, it will lie generally unnoticed and ignored, virtually from the get-go, and that it won't be long before it's seen as the quaint relic of a bygone era whose time has long since passed.