The American public has made rapid progress in its acceptance of gay neighbors, gay sons and daughters and same-sex marriages, but those who regard homosexuals as practitioners of an aberrant and corrupting lifestyle, while recognizing, I think, that the cultural battle is lost, are deep in grief. Anger is only the second stage of the grieving process, and the most destructive as well as the stage that generates the most unethical and irrational conduct. If we can somehow get the grief-stricken to bargaining, depression and acceptance, the final three stages, everyone,including them, would be better off.
The signs are clear right now, however, that anger is the prevalent mood among anti-gay bitter-enders, after the first two stages, denial and isolation, have played out. As a consequence we are seeing more and more instances of gratuitous cruelty and aggression against gays. It is usually diagnosed as hate, but its root is the anger of grief. The culture is changing in ways that some never dreamed it could or would, and they are furious.
Thus we have the sad story I posted on over the weekend, in which the owner of a bridal shop chose to denigrate a woman and her upcoming nuptials by refusing to deliver a dress and describing the same-sex wedding as “illegal activity.” Actually, her actions were the illegal activity, but it would have been unethical anyway. Why? Because it was hurtful, unfair and disrespectful for no good reason, other than the fact that a woman grieving for a lost cause wanted to lash out at an innocent victim who had the misfortune to stumble into her fury.
Some commenters here were struck by the fact that Jennifer McKendrick, the photographer who refused to take senior portraits for girls who she observed engaging in cyber-bullying, was saluted on Ethics Alarms as an Ethics Hero,for doing essentially the same thing that the owner of Here Comes the Bride had done: refuse to render a service as a personal statement of values.
There were critical distinctions, however, both legal and ethical. Legally, an independent contractor like McKendrick can work or not work for whomever she chooses. She is not a public accommodation. Nonetheless, a photographer who refuses to perform a service for someone purely because of enmity based on race, age, gender or other bigotry isn’t any more ethical than the bridal shop owner. That was neither McKendrick’s motivation or conduct, however. She was aware of anti-social and harmful activity by minors, and she had the power, by withholding her services, to discourage and perhaps stop the behavior before it did serious harm. If McKendrick had been around when the owner of Here comes the Bride had been in her formative years, maybe Alix Gintner would have been able to buy the gown she wanted.
Now news comes from Texas that another angry anti-gay bigot, this time a judge, has given vent to his rage by abusing another same-sex couple.
The Houston judge entered an order that prohibits William Flowers from leaving his children alone with any man they aren’t related to “by blood or adoption.” That is inconvenient, to say the least, because Flowers is married to such a man, his partner Jim Evans. They were wed last year in Connecticut, which recognizes same-sex unions. .When William and his ex-wife divorced in 2004, they agreed that their three children would live with her. Following a recent trial in which William tried to change the arrangement to joint custody, Harris County Associate Judge Charley E. Prine, Jr. issued an injunction applicable only to William when his children are visiting. It prohibits him from leaving his children alone with any male to whom the children are not related by “blood or adoption.” Flowers can’t leave his kids at home with his husband, or, for that matter, leave them in the custody of male doctors, teachers or social workers.
Why such a restrictive ruling? There has never been any allegation of abuse of any kind, but Judge Prine appears to think that a man being gay constitutes a per se risk of inappropriate conduct, and that any male who is a friend or associate of a gay man is a potential threat as well. Family lawyers say this kind of ruling, in which a step-parent or long-term partner is permanently enjoined from being alone with his step-children when abuse is not a factor, is unprecedented.
How could such a ruling be in the best interest of the children, which is the standard in family law? It can’t. The restriction’s only purpose is to express the judge’s disapproval of the marriage between Flowers and Evans, which Texas does not recognize as valid, and to make it difficult for Flowers to host his own children for a visit.
Judges and bridal shop owners, and many more misguided Americans, are lashing out in anger at a cultural change that they feel challenges religion, tradition, and their sense of the natural order of things. They are grieving, and we need to try to understand their fear and pain even as we restrain their antagonism and minimize the harm they do. Despair and bargaining lie ahead before they reach acceptance, and this ugly chapter in American cultural history can finally come to a close.