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When Rights Clash

The liberal in me believes strongly in protecting LGBTQ rights, while my inner conservative recognizes the social and cultural benefits of two-parent traditional households. 
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July 12, 2023
Television news crews report from outside the U.S. Supreme Court on the last day of its term on June 30, 2023 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court sided with a Christian web designer in Colorado who refuses to create websites to celebrate same-sex weddings out of religious objections. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Last week, we discussed the Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action. But another case, in which the court ruled that a deeply religious web designer named Lorie Smith who refused to create a website for a same-sex wedding was protected by the First Amendment. is worth just as much of our time and attention.

I often turn to my Jewish heritage. to the culture and dogma of my faith, to help me navigate especially difficult policy matters. But in this case, I find that my religion pulls me in two opposite directions. The challenges the Jewish people have faced as a underrepresented minority throughout our history make me naturally inclined to stand with those facing unjust persecution. But my Judaism has also taught me to respect the religious beliefs of others, even when they differ from my own. Ultimately, I must decide whether to support those whose values are in greater need of protection – or to automatically side with those whose values I happen to share.

I’ve never liked being called a “moderate”: the term suggests someone without strong feelings or principles. But my beliefs on some matters – such as economic and national security policy — would be classified by many as fiercely conservative. On social issues such as abortion rights and immigration reform I’d be seen as committed progressive. I’m not moderate about very much at all: it’s just a lazy way for someone to average out a wide-ranging set of opinions and viewpoints.

In a similar way, my support for marriage equality springs from two very different philosophical sources. The liberal in me believes strongly in protecting LGBTQ rights: people deserve the right to the happiness that comes with a loving relationship – and the right to have that relationship recognized by the state regardless of their sexual orientation. My inner conservative recognizes the benefits for children of growing up in a two-parent household, and I see no valid argument why the gender of those two parents should be relevant to their ability to raise a child in a healthy and productive way.

My original impulse was to oppose the decision, concluding that the damage caused to a same-sex couple facing discrimination outweighed that suffered by a person of religious faith forced to implicitly endorse a practice that her faith forbids. But as is often the case, the deeper one digs, the more complicated a disagreement like this one can become, regardless of your opinion on either this particular case or the broader issue,

Smith’s attorneys told the court that she frequently provided services to LGBTQ clients.  But she felt that developing a website publicizing a same-sex marriage crossed a line from tolerating and respecting the decisions of others to actively supporting a ceremony that contradicted her beliefs. Smith’s work with members of the LGBTQ community on other projects may differentiate her decision from the civil rights era injustices in which merchants refused to allow black customers to enter their establishments or minority schoolchildren were barred from many public schools. But I still wrestle with whether that distinction is sufficient to justify this decision..

Smith had previously written a webpage outlining several topics on which she would not be comfortable working. She stated that she “will decline any request—no matter who makes it—to create content that contradicts the truths of the Bible, demeans or disparages someone, promotes atheism or gambling, endorses the taking of unborn life, incites violence, or promotes a concept of marriage that is not solely the union of one man and one woman.”

Her references to abortion and same-sex marriage understandably stand out, given the heartfelt and often wrenching debates in which our society engages on both issues. But a web designer who refused to create content that cruelly victimizes another member of the community or encouraged violence against an individual or persecuted class – to cite two of her other examples — would not be regarded so harshly.

Her mention of atheism should strike an especially deep chord with American Jews. Would a deeply observant Jewish web designer be required to create websites promoting the lack of existence of God?

Her mention of atheism should strike an especially deep chord with American Jews. Would a deeply observant Jewish web designer be required to create websites promoting the lack of existence of God? What would happen if someone who worries about the impact of the rising rates of intermarriage were asked to create a website or a wedding between a Jew and non-Jew? The competing priorities between statute and conscience clearly become much more difficult to balance when they represent our own beliefs rather than those of others.


Dan Schnur is the U.S. Politics Editor for the Jewish Journal. He teaches courses in politics, communications, and leadership at UC Berkeley, USC and Pepperdine. He hosts the monthly webinar “The Dan Schnur Political Report” for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall. Follow Dan’s work at www.danschnurpolitics.com

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