Over the years, but especially in 2008, the year of hateful Proposition 8, I wrote regularly about LGBT rights. I cheered the California Supreme Court decision that opened the door to same-sex marriage. I wrote about the unfair standards to which gay and lesbian couples were being held, about the judgmentalism involved in deciding who was entitled to the basic right to marriage.
Fortunately for me, I’m not a household name and certainly not a household face. But if I were, I would have been stunned and horrified to be turned away from a restaurant where the owner’s viewpoints differed from mine.
Should I ever decide to stop by a Chick-Fil-A, a chain whose owner has publicly opposed same-sex marriage, it would be monstrous for me to be told (not that such a thing would happen) that I wouldn’t be served based on my heated defenses of marriage equality.
He would probably think my beliefs are immoral. I think his beliefs are immoral. But he runs a restaurant, a public accommodation. And as a member of the public, I should be entitled to patronize public accommodations as long as I behave myself, which I generally do, more or less.
That’s why I find myself in the strange position of standing up for Sarah Huckabee Sanders, despite her limp attempts as White House spokeswoman to make the Trump administration seem like anything higher than hateful slime that is taking apart our nation’s protections and humanity faster than I could have believed possible. Sanders was asked to leave a Virginia restaurant because the employees and owner find her actions fronting for the administration sickening.
And sickening they are. I wouldn’t let the woman or her boss into my home. I would gag at the thought of serving her and would hate having her in the same dining room where I’m a customer.
But that’s not the same as the general feeling among Trump-haters these days after Sanders was asked to leave a Virginia restaurant. The sense seems to be that the restaurant owner took the moral high ground by advising Sanders that she wasn’t welcome.
The decision to open a restaurant is a decision to welcome the public. It’s the kind of service to which we all should be at least accepted if not warmly welcomed, whether we are gay or Muslim or pro-abortion or anti-abortion or even if we are, like Sanders, simply vile, unless we behave in ways that are disruptive to the business. That extends to hotels, retail stores and other public-serving businesses.
We’d be rightly aghast if a restaurant refused service to a same-sex couple. Many people have gleefully invoked the recent Supreme Court decision about a Colorado cake maker who refused to design a wedding cake for a gay couple, saying that the right to refuse goes both ways.
But the court’s decision wasn’t about public accommodation or freedom of expression. Rather, it centered on what justices saw as hostility against religion on the part of the Colorado panel that ruled against the cake maker. That’s why two of the court’s liberal justices joined the majority to make it a 7-2 decision.
Virginia law does not protect patrons of public accommodations based on their sexual orientation or their political affiliations. (California laws are much more protective.) This isn’t about slicing and dicing the laws of different states to figure out who had their civil liberties curtailed.
It’s about the kind of nation we are becoming - the kind of nation that, in fact, Sanders and Donald Trump and various other cockroaches within the administration are encouraging us to become through inhumane policy and hateful comments.
When Sanders wants to buy underpants, she should be allowed to, even if the owner of the lingerie shop hates everything about her. A gay couple should be able to check into any hotel. The head of Planned Parenthood should be able to order dinner in a restaurant where the owner feels that abortion amounts to the horrific killing of innocent babies.
We may dislike or even revile certain people because of their beliefs or actions. We are discomfited by their presence. We’re big boys and girls. We can handle some discomfort.
In the public spaces of life, there should still be room for us all to sit and have the comfort of a meal or a night’s shelter. Let’s not allow the extreme and ugly days of Trump to take that away from us, too.
Karin Klein is a veteran California journalist and commentator.