I've seen at least two recent articles arguing that there is a "way out" for Christians in the wedding business. Here is one and here is the other. The basic idea goes something like this: If you are a florist, a baker, or a photographer, willingly agree to celebrate homosexual "weddings," but make a big deal of the fact that you are going to donate the money to marriage defense groups of some kind or other.
Bruce Takawani, perhaps trying to be humorous (but he may be seriously suggesting it), has the following "branding" idea:
There are plenty of other Bible verses to put on your service van, as well, such as Romans 1:26-28, or Leviticus 20:13.
Ideally, you’ll come up with some combination of overt biblical references that will both express your genuine religious convictions and repel those who expect you to bend to their will simply because they exist—while making it clear that you follow all applicable laws and regulations on the diversity of customers you are obligated to serve.
Would any gay couple actually hire you to show up in your Bible-thumping van? They could, and you’d have them sign an agreement that makes it clear that for marketing purposes you always wear a T-shirt with your business name and favorite Bible verse and distribute flyers under the windshield wipers of wedding guests—flyers that both summarize your services and outline your traditional-marriage beliefs.
Brent Bozell is pretty clearly serious and has similar ideas:
Tell them that the food and services will be just fine. "And then inform them that all of the money that they pay for the services will be donated to a traditional pro-family lobby. [snip] If they're appalled, then say, "Oh, you would be offended by that? I'm so sorry. You approached us because we are Christians. Right? We are happy to provide services for you and we are grateful that you chose to come to our Christian catering business. We just want to be of help.
"Then tell them that you will take out an ad in the paper to let everyone know what you did with their money, thanking them by name for their business so that you could make the contribution."
Bozell is borrowing his ideas from blogger Fr. Zuhlsdorf,
Now, I know that all of this sounds clever, even brilliant. But I would like to beg people to stop promoting these "solutions." The reasons against them are twofold--one practical and one moral.
First, this is really, really, really bad legal advice. Bozell ends chirpily:
No one is refused service or suffers "discrimination" in this scenario, and the caterer's conscience is intact. Leftist lawyers and judges don't get to levy fines. But if gay couples want to force their lifestyle on others, it naturally follows that religious believers should push their beliefs more elaborately as well.
I'll get back to the conscience bit in a moment, but first, about the happy prediction that "leftist lawyers and judges don't get to levy fines."
I really have to wonder what world the people who give this advice have been living in for the past several decades that they really think this is a practical solution. Let me ask you, legally: What would happen if an interracial couple asked a florist to do their wedding, and the florist made a huge song and dance about how he belongs to the local neo-Nazi club, would show up with racist slogans all over his van, and would donate any money made from the wedding to the local White Supremacist club?
Yeah, that. He would have the pants sued off him for creating a hostile public accommodations environment, that's what! This would be regarded as no different from illegal signal-sending in housing advertisements, about which we have reams and reams of advice. See here, for example.
We need to realize that non-discrimination law was not created yesterday. It does not have loopholes. It has been around for decades, and all the loopholes have been closed. The anti-discrimination bureaucrats, lawmakers, judges, and lawyers have already thought of everything along these lines that you might think of to do to try to "get around" non-discrimination law, and guess what? That's all illegal, too. That's why Cracker Barrel had to pay a big settlement because black people claimed that they had to wait longer to be served than white people!
The bottom line is that if you do something that even accidentally makes a "protected status" group feel uncomfortable, you're liable to be charged with discrimination. All the more so, if you do things that are blatantly, evidently, obviously designed to deter members of a protected status group from seeking your services or to make them feel uncomfortable when using your services, you will definitely be subject to a discrimination suit.
So let's not fool ourselves.
Second, about that conscience matter. I don't know if those making these suggestions think that what we Christians should object to is taking money for celebrating sodomite relationships, but it was never about the money! It was about celebrating the sodomite relationship. Please note: It would be just as wrong to celebrate a sodomite relationship for a family member for free as to do it as a business. So how in the world does donating the money to a good cause make it all okay?
The point is that each of these actions is a type of speech act. It is a form of endorsement of the relationship. Think of a photographer: Is it okay for a photographer to take glamorous, beautiful photos making it look sweet for two men to be kissing each other at the altar so long as he gives the money to a pro-family organization? You can't pay off your conscience like that! The photos are still celebrating the relationship. What you do with the money is the least of your problems.
Now, we can discuss exactly what constitutes this type of speech-act. I'm inclined to say that if you sell a man a sheet cake (which no one would use for a wedding anyway), and he goes away and serves it at his homosexual "wedding," you haven't endorsed anything. And the homosexual lobbyists (and some annoyingly foolish Christians) sometimes talk like this is the scenario: "Christians are trying to control what other people do with their products." Puh-lease. No, we aren't. We're talking about that point of intersection where the services provided are overtly a part of the celebration of the event. The service provider is supposed to consult, even sometimes be present for the event, provide symbolic objects (like a wedding cake, maybe even with two men or two women on top), speak in an upbeat and positive fashion about the event, help in his own sphere in the planning of the event to make sure that it goes well, or even (as in the case of a photogrpher) use his creative, artistic talents to memorialize and celebrate the event. This is why there is a problem. This is why people have a conscience problem with these acts. It almost passes my understanding how intelligent and even sometimes conservative people could even think for a moment that the problem would go away if the money were "purged" by being given to a pro-marriage group. If you just participated in normalizing and celebrating homosexual "marriage," your conscience should be aching even if you donated ten times as much as your profits to a pro-marriage group.
So, this isn't a way out.
I myself am inclined to think that practically speaking there is no way out and that Christians and other moral traditionalists are going to have to stop operating wedding services for money. As long as you are a "public accommodation," you will fall under non-discrimination laws. If an entire photography or florist business could be operated as an arm of an explicitly religious organization (similar to a gift shop that is run by a religious organization), that it could probably be exempt under any religious exemption that applies. But it is doubtful that any large number of florists, bakers, and photographers could be sustained in that fashion. Alternatively, it is possible that, in venues with non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation, such service providers could legally raise their prices for other services and offer actual wedding services only for free in a "discriminatory" fashion, charging only for actual materials. Then they could honestly tell inquirers that as a business they do not "do weddings."
Another suggestion I have seen is for a wedding service provider to make it a policy to do all weddings only through churches that have "registered" with him to obtain wedding services for their members. Then the "discrimination" would be carried out at the level of "registering" religious organizations. However, this would almost certainly be deemed discrimination on the basis of religion and illegal on that basis. (Now you can be sued by atheists as well as by homosexuals.) Moreover, if a church's position on homosexual "marriage" were included in the criteria for the church's "registering" with the photographer or baker, and if a homosexual couple were turned away because they did not belong to a registered church, the provider would almost certainly also be held to have discriminated against them on the basis of sexual orientation.
So the deck is stacked and the game is rigged. Unless widespread religious exemptions are allowed, Christians are not going to be able to continue participating in these businesses. I say "widespread," because a tenuous religious exemption which, to obtain, requires a torturous court proceeding with the issue very much in doubt is of scarcely any practical value. This is why, though I have been appalled at the reaction to the attempt to pass a meaningful RFRA in Indiana, and sickened by the pusillanimity of Republican lawmakers who have tried to withdraw its protections (such as they are) from Christians in precisely this position, I have been unable to summon much enthusiasm for an RFRA as a real, practical solution. That is not to mention the fact that non-religious people might also have entirely legitimate objections to celebrating homosexual "marriages."
It is a bitter pill to swallow that these wicked and unjust laws have this effect of driving people of conscience further out of the public square. I will be happy to admit that I have been wrong if we get at some point a solid and binding precedent for an exemption, which will firmly deter future attempted prosecutions, protecting businessmen on conscientious or religious grounds.
But it does no good to make up cutesy ideas that supposedly show that, if we are only clever enough, we can out-fox the tolerance bullies. Such ideas will only cause people to make legal mistakes and, if their bluff is called and the services demanded nonetheless, violate their consciences after all.