A Deeply Held Religious Belief… or a Cheeseburger

As I sit down to write this, Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona has just decided to veto a bill, passed by both houses of their legislature, that would make it legal to refuse service to people who somehow run afoul of your deeply held religious beliefs. And apparently a lot of peoples’ deeply held religious beliefs involve inconveniencing gays who, as we all know, will do icky things with their nibbly bits just as soon as they’re done eating that cake you’ve just been asked to bake. The logic seems to be if there’s no cake, there will be no gay sex.

But Gov. Brewer vetoed the bill, not because there’s something off about an “exercise of religion” that involves bigotry based upon judgments made while picturing the sinners naked, but because of the “economic impact.” They could lose the Super Bowl. The National Association of Polyvinyl Siding Manufacturers might move their convention. When people visit the Four Corners, they will make a point of NOT standing in Arizona. For reaction, I switched on MSNBC’s primetime Outrage Block, and the consensus seemed to be that, while vetoing the bill was a good thing, Gov. Brewer may have done it for reasons that were somewhat suspect. The moral outrage should’ve been enough.

But I can sympathize with the Governor. I once faced a very similar dilemma. When I was in college, I preferred to decorate my room in the Beta House in a modified salon wall style. Instead of framed engravings, I chose a mélange of beer signs, a life-size poster of Daryl Hannah as a topless fish, and various purloined signs. On the wall by my bed was one sign I found particularly hi-lar-ious. It was a neon orange sign with stark black stick figures in a stark black prohibition circle that wouldn’t be out of place telling people on a jobsite not to touch a live wire or hurl themselves into acid. But this was something I thought at the time was more horrid than an acid bath. In stark black letters across the top it read “STOP AIDS,” and the two figures in the prohibition circle were engaged in what I referred to at the time as “butt sex.”

Okay, I still call it butt sex, but it’s sexy when I do it. Right?

I could speculate on the source of my homophobia and cluelessness, but let’s just say that the intersection of being deeply, deeply in the closet and using “humor” to score points with frat brothers is even uglier and emptier than that intersection in your town with the bad mall no one goes to anymore and the defunct Pontiac dealership. Oh, we all had a good laugh because “Ick! Look at what the homos are doing!” Then we went back to showering communally.

I would’ve been one thing had I tossed it out along with all the other junk when I moved on from the frat house to grad school. But no, I figured the best way to ingratiate myself to the new people I would be meeting in grad school would be to hang this sign in the living room of my apartment. It hung there for over a year, and no one said anything. In that year, in the course of various get-togethers and group projects I had out gays and at least one person I found out later was struggling to come out at the time over to my apartment. No one said anything, but then again, no one in grad school seemed all that concerned with decor. So the sign just became part of the “normal” background.

Then in my second year, a couple Ronan and Anna, asked me to drive them from Ann Arbor up to Toronto spur of the moment for the weekend in exchange for a place to stay. I had nothing better to do, so I agreed. It was all rather rushed, as they needed to be in Toronto by six, and I didn’t have enough time to finish up my schoolwork and eat before hitting the road. Anna was one of those people who are incomplete without a ginormous backpack. I little while after pulling onto I-94, she reached into her bag and pulled out a McDonald’s sack. She had bought some Quarter Pounders for her and Ronan. They smelled delicious-ish. “Do you think I can have a cheeseburger?” I asked.

“Nope,” said Anna. I was taken aback.

“C’mon. I’m starving. I’ll give you the $1.39.”

“Not good enough.”

“What do you want then?”

She then leaned in from the back seat and locked eyes with me in the review mirror. “You know what you can do? You can take down that obnoxious sign.”

“But, but…”

Ronan chimed in, “Seriously dude, it needs to come down.” I weighed the obvious comedy against the fact that I was nearly ready to pass out from hunger.

“Okay. I’ll take it down.” With that, Anna handed me my prize. No one up to that point had ever called me out on my homophobia. I doubt I would’ve promised to take the sign down had the cheeseburger not been proffered because it would’ve registered as just another example of political correctness. After all, earlier that year at Michigan, everyone got a twelve page brochure in the mail entitled You’re a Harasser When… The constant haranguing had made tolerance almost a joke to me. I can hear myself saying, “What now? This, too? It’s called free speech!”

However, dangle a cheeseburger when I’m starving –that’s an argument for tolerance I could understand. Up until that point, I comforted myself in the notion that my homophobia was a deeply held moral belief. The fact that it could be upset by a cheeseburger helped me begin to realize that maybe it wasn’t so integral to my makeup. And kinda stupidly offensive.

May the 2015 Super Bowl be Arizona’s cheeseburger.



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