Tennessee store owner posts "No gays allowed" sign

On a slow news day, it was either this or the fact that Twitter’s blowing up right now over the NYT’s suggestion that peas would make a fine addition to guacamole. Since only one of those stories has seeped into other major newspapers (so far), that’s the one I’m blogging. Although, for the record, I like peas and think they’d be an intriguing, if not necessarily triumphant, ingredient in guac from a textural perspective. Let’s not wet ourselves over experimental recipes after we, as a people, just got done spending two weeks debating the pros and cons of pizza with cocktail weenies in place of the crust, okay?

As for this guy and his sign, he’s a lefty dream come true insofar as he’s threatening to refuse service to gays as a rule, not just in the specific context of a wedding. Other businesses, like Memories Pizza in Indiana, made a point of stressing that their problem with gay marriage is specific to marriage. Their faith says it’s reserved for one man and one woman so they can’t in good conscience participate in a ceremony celebrating another form, but it doesn’t say they can’t do business with gays in other contexts. Not this guy. He cleaned up his message a bit after the media started dialing him up — now his sign says he refuses the right to serve people who don’t recognize his freedom of religion — but if you’re a gay-rights activist eager to argue that letting people refuse service to gay marriages will lead to service being refused to gays generally, here you go. I’m curious to see how much grassroots support he gets if/when the now familiar cycle of media coverage followed by nasty threats followed by his business closing for a few days followed by a Kickstarter to help him offset the costs of lost revenue plays out. If you’re a libertarian who opposes antidiscrimination laws in principle, because you feel market solutions are a better way to punish prejudice than handing the government power to tinker with freedom of association, you’re on his side. If you aren’t, you (probably) aren’t.

The most perennially interesting thing to me about these “random person not down with gay marriage” news stories is how they subtly undercut the argument against religious exemptions to antidiscrimination laws within the narrow context of gay marriage. Antidiscrimination laws are most valuable when there’s widespread prejudice in local public accommodations; if the entire city’s willing to refuse service to you if you’re black or gay, you may have no convenient alternatives for the services you seek. You’re frozen out comprehensively and no one thinks much of anything about it. The fact, though, that local news outlets now treat the mere possibility that a gay customer might be refused service by a local business as newsworthy suggests that that wider see-no-evil attitude isn’t operating here. The media’s helping bring to bear public pressure on holdouts, just as the libertarian model for fighting discrimination imagines. Maybe that would change if you created an exemption for religious conscience; maybe there are huge numbers of religious business owners who want to refuse service to gays but are afraid of the law right now, and who would indulge themselves if the law looked the other way. In that case, there’d be too many holdouts for the media to highlight all of them. As far as I know, though, outside of Tennessee’s major cities, it’s legal in that state to discriminate gays just as this guy is doing. If the law is the only thing holding most religious business owners back from discriminating, how to explain the fact that this guy is so evidently so much of an outlier that merely posting a sign is worthy of 6 p.m. coverage?