A Modest Proposal For Religious Freedom Laws


In 1994, I moved to Los Angeles to attend film school, and I quickly discovered a local hangout called Barney’s Beanery. It was one of those places that hipsters would call a “dive”, which meant the décor was fashioned to look old and tacky but there weren’t actually any creepy drunks lingering around to bring everyone down. My friends and I used to hang out there and talk about movies, because we heard Shane Black went there to write, and because the menu was full of the kind of deep-fried pub food that we were too young to realize we shouldn’t be eating so much of.

Then one day, the one openly gay guy in my MFA program (I wasn’t yet brave enough to come out myself) told me why he never joined us when we went there.

“The owners are homophobes,” he said.

“No!” I insisted. “That’s impossible.”

He shook his head. “I can’t believe you haven’t heard this. There used to be a sign over the bar that said ‘Faggots Stay Out’.”

I think at this point I probably laughed, guffawed even. The idea was so absurd, not only because it seemed like the kind of blatant Jim Crow bigotry America had supposedly done away with long ago, but because Barney’s Beanery was in the middle of the gayest part of town. Walk a couple of blocks in either direction from Barney’s and you’d undoubtedly find yourself face-to-jock strap with a go-go boy dancing on a bar.

“You have to be kidding,” I said. “It’s in West Hollywood.”

“Right,” he replied. “And have you ever noticed any gay people in there?”

It was my “Soylent Green is people” moment (sorry for the spoiler if you haven’t seen “Soylent Green”). He was right. Barney’s Beanery was situated among the gayest gay bars in Gaytown, yet it was full of the straightest frat boys you’d ever seen.

Thanks to the internet, I now have photographic proof that Barney’s did have that sign, up until the city forced them to take it down in 1985. (Not surprisingly, the word “faggots” wasn’t even spelled correctly.)

Photo republished from Frontiers Magazine

Photo republished from Frontiers Magazine

When my friend told me about Barney’s no fags policy, I felt sick. I wanted to retroactively barf up every onion ring I’d ever eaten and every drop of cheap beer I’d ever drunk there on their front steps. One thing was for sure. I was never setting foot in Barney’s again.

Now, thanks to the Indiana state legislature and its governor, Mike Pence, millions of people in a Midwest state have the right to do just what Barney’s did. Sure, they’re not asking to exercise that right quite as crudely, but then again, maybe that’s the problem.

I’m not going to argue the merits of this law. If you want to read someone doing that much better than I can, check out Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s eloquent and thorough smackdown of a similar law in Colorado in Romer v. Evans, from 1996. Laws like this are nothing new. They spring from a decades-long effort by well-funded anti-gay hate groups who are determined to legitimize and spread their bigotry. Every few years, these obsessive Grinches regroup with a slightly different strategy, usually in a different state, where they rewrite their last bill and try again. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

They’re convinced this is a cultural war, and if it is, I’m ready to admit that it might not be one we can win. Sure, we can boycott Indiana, but then the people who got this law passed will just cry oppression even louder, and at the same time, we’ll end up hurting lots of good-hearted, open-minded Hoosiers who are as disgusted by the law as many of us out-of-staters are.

I’m tired of fighting back, and I’m tired of arguing. I’m tired of using my time, money and energy trying to force bigots to make me a wedding cake. We both think someone’s trying to infringe on our freedom, that the other side is out to oppress us. Again, I could argue this point, but I’m tired of it. They’re not going away. They’re determined to win.

So I say it’s time to let them.

They want the right to discriminate? They can have it.

You don’t want to cater my gay wedding? You don’t have to.

You don’t want to give me the family rate at your pool club because our family happens to have two dads? Fine with me.

You’re a jeweler who’s willing to turn down the sale of two diamond rings because the women buying them plan to give them to each other? Hey, it’s your business.

There’s just one catch.

You know those signs that businesses put up that say “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”? Well, from now on, if you choose to reserve that right, you have to hang one of those signs on your front door.

And you have to be specific.

Your God won’t let you sell me a cake? No problem. Just post this in your shop window:


That spares me the embarrassment of coming inside your business only to get turned away, and it saves you the unpleasantness of having to tell me to my face that you don’t think I’m morally upstanding enough to savor your rich buttercream frosting. It’s win-win.

In fact, why limit this to gays? How about a sign like this instead:


It’s customizable! You don’t want to serve African-Americans? Write your favorite slur in the appropriate spot. Jews make you uncomfortable? Fill in the blank. This one sign will work for whatever group of people you find distasteful. Muslims? Transgender people? The disabled? Did you see the sign? Buh-bye!

You don’t even have to claim religious oppression to do this. I don’t care what your reasons are, and I don’t care what you put in that blank, whether it’s my group or not. If I see that sign in your window, I’ll just quietly move on and give my business to someone else.

Because here’s what I think:

I think, if you’re really willing to own your right to discriminate, you won’t just lose the business of whatever minority you feel your bottom line can do without. You’ll lose everyone who sees discrimination for the divisive, un-American garbage that it is. You can’t spit on me and then act all nice and innocent with my straight friends, not anymore. You want the right to refuse someone service because of who they are? Put your money where your entrance door is, and see who’s still willing to walk through it.

A lot has changed since Barney’s Beanery took down their sign. (Even Barney’s, now under new ownership, seems to have made peace with the community.) Back then, there were no such thing as straight allies. Well, judging from my Facebook feed, my straight friends have my back, and I have the backs of all my friends, too, no matter which model in a Benetton ad they most resemble. Turn away any one of us you want, but only if you’re willing to run the risk of losing all of us.

You see, there’s one thing you have to remember, and that’s that if you have the right to discriminate, so do I… only my sign will look more like this:


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You reserve the right to be… awesome. If you agree with my modest proposal, spread the word by sharing this post on your social networks with the buttons below.

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I may have mentioned I’m a dad, with kids to feed. I also have a great, funny story to tell of how I became a dad. So forgive this shameless plug for my book, Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad, which is available at non-discriminatory booksellers everywhere.

50 comments on “A Modest Proposal For Religious Freedom Laws

    • i wish enough Americans realized this so that civil rights uses this strategy instead of trying to legislate for and against belief systems and ideas. you would think there is enough evidence by now (China’s cultural revolution the biggest example) to come to the realization that you cannot legislate away beliefs&ideas and should consider a different strategy to go about achieving better equality.

      • Thanks for the comment. I just want to clarify one thing. The notion that we should allow bigotry because tha will make it go away is something I wouldn’t have advocated only a few years ago. If you had polled people 10 or even 5 years ago about these laws, the result would’ve been much different. America was founded on the notion that we’re all created equal, and the government has a responsibility to make sure we’re all treated that way. Sometimes minorities need to be protected from the majority, sad as that is. There was a time when the majority would’ve voted for slavery, for Jim Crow, for rounding up Japanese people and who knows what else. That doesn’t mean those things should’ve been allowed, and the government was right (though in all cases WAY WAY too late) to put a stop to those things.

        What’s different now is that people’s tolerance for gay people finally seems to be higher than their tolerance for bigotry, and the only way to make bigots realize that might be to give them what they want and let them fall on their faces.

  1. You bet I got your back! And anyone else they want to write in…I will happily take
    my business elsewhere! This is an awesome view point I will be sharing!
    Lots of Love!

  2. Reblogged this on The Dad Poet and commented:
    I think this is a good idea. You don’t believe in divorce? Just post the sign that your wedding chapel doesn’t do second, third or even sixth marriages.

    I’ve been reading a lot of people’s thoughts on this, and frankly I understand the anger and frustration. I too grow weary of the need to defend my right to a hand-holding dinner for two.

    I do not, however, want to sink to the level of fighting and name calling that many have. Some folks on the left are doing just that. I will resist that impulse, but as I said, I do understand. It’s not like there really is a middle ground. Is there?

    Isn’t bigotry still bigotry, even if it comes from a lack of understanding? Even if it is the result of the same cultural brain washing many of us who grew up in the church endured? We can sympathize, even empathize, but why do we think we should compromise?

    Is it ever ok to reserve the right to not serve blacks? Jews? Lefties? To not pay women equally? Blacks and jews are not some inferior race, and women are not some lesser class than men. So why have we allowed them, those kind religious folks, to convince us that they have a right to treat a trans man or woman, a gay man, a lesbian, a gender queer person, or a person of any sort, as if we are not all equal citizens? Is it because they have opressed us for so long that the kindest souls among us secretly fear that we really do deserve it?

    Sometimes there is no middle ground. Sometimes the other side truly is wrong. But that’s no excuse to act like hatefully ourselves. Let’s be dignified, even kind. But please, let’s do be strong and put our collective foot down. I can be kind to you if you think the world is flat, but I need not respect your opinion, and I will not tolerate your ignorant treatment of the rest of us who know that the world truly does rotate on its axis as it revolves around the sun–no matter what your regious leaders might tell you. I will be glad to talk to you, and if you refuse to hear, I will let you believe as you wish, but I will not condone your ill treatment of others, because there is never a time when that is acceptable.

    Oh, and you, you who outright calls me names, and would take away my rights, even my life if you could, well you just go ahead talking that way, but be honest about it. Post it on your door and in your window, and see how many friends you’ve really got.

  3. Powerful and on point (as always)!!! Let the bigots just come out and say it. Let them gamble on their businesses if they believe in it so strongly. Funny how they back track and mumble when confronted directly by those not of the minority, huh?

    • Absolutely. That interview with Gov. Pence where he wouldn’t admit the law was discriminatory was very telling. People want the right to discriminate without having to identify themselves as discriminators. It’s cowardly. Hey, I came out. (And if I hadn’t, you wouldn’t even know you wanted to turn my business away in the first place.) It’s your turn to come out and say who you really are.

  4. I’m still so confused how they actually plan to implement this law. Like, obviously wedding-related services are a bit easier to directly discern and refuse, but what if a business just sells cookies? Like, two guys walk in to buy cookies. Are they brothers? Friends? Lovers? HOW DOES THE COOKIE VENDOR KNOW? Are they actually going to *ask?* Or what if someone just walks into a bookstore on their own? Or with a kid? They don’t know if that kid was adopted or was conceived through surrogacy and now lives with its two moms. Are they actually going to ask, “Excuse me ma’am, did that child come out of you after procreation with a man you were married to?” (And oh hey, if they weren’t married, and the business is actually a daycare, will they refuse to take on the child, since its the product of premarital sex and that also goes against the Christian religion?) And like, what if someone’s bisexual? If a business, say a restaurant, doesn’t allow a girl in because she’s dating another girl, will they let her in later if she’s dating a guy? You know, since that is technically a heterosexually structured relationship?

    Sigh. This law is so obviously idiotic that my eyes burn from the glare of so much stupidity.

    • Yes, these people must have excellent gaydar. And you’re right. It gives people the right to interrogate their customers about their personal lives. So it’s a protection for jerks. Hey, I just want a damn cake. Don’t make me prove my heterosexuality to you before you let me buy it.

  5. Jerry, as usual, you are brilliant!

    And now I have a great reason to look into investing in commercial property!

    Seriously, I still feel a need and a desire to challenge those bigots, but who knows? After this, I might add this to my “I’m too old for this shit!” list.

    And I AM reblogging this!

    Thank you, thank you!!

  6. Reblogged this on This Gay Man's Life… and commented:
    I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Jerry Mahoney in person for his book signing of “Mommy Man: How I Went from Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad.” And it became very clear to me, right off the bat, why he has won awards for comedic writing.

    Nonetheless, he raises a very good point in this post, and although he certainly does not need to be reblogged (far from it, frankly), I admire and agree with a great deal of what he wrote, and so, I AM reblogging. Enjoy!

  7. Well said!! I had an argument with my wife once about going to celebrate our anniversary at a Sandals resort. I refused, and my argument was, “Have you seen the commercials?! They cater to straight, Caucasian couples! The only black people in the commercials are the help!!! Why would I give my money to a resort like that?!” She insisted that we go, and I kept refusing…so finally she Googled “Sandals Resorts and Gays”…sure enough, there was a huge pending lawsuit because tons of gay couples had won free week/weekend trips through raffles and things like that, but Sandals refused to honor them because their policy strictly said, “Men and Women couples only”. Needless to say, the 5 couples and ourselves that were going to travel to the resort (at almost $2,000/week per person) were definitely not going to contribute to their hate. They still stand by their ridiculous outlook on the “feel” of their resort…in this day and age, you would think it wouldn’t really matter. So we are not the ones that lose in this, financially speaking…I will gladly give my money to the establishment that is welcoming and loving to my family…

      • Oh Disney is awesome…they shut the whole park down for “Gay Day”..not sure that’s what it’s actually called, but it’s open for all LGBT families (all families really) for a whole night! It was pretty awesome, and that was BEFORE we had 3 kids!

  8. Hey J good article. I would take a step further and have t-shirt made…..I will down in my may. Maybe you can finally sign my Mommy Man book. much lv

  9. Well said, Jerry. I agree completely and would actually prefer if these businesses took a step further and put up virtual “Gays Stay Out” signs on their Yelp listings. It would save me time and gas money not having to pile four kids into the minivan to go visit these hateful establishments. The market will deal with these businesses and I do believe that the number of businesses that actually invoke these RFRA laws will be low because the truth is discrimination is bad for business.

    I’m not worried about cake and flowers. I will happily go elsewhere and do business with better people that are more receptive to my family. What troubles me is how these laws allow for government employees to refuse service. If a county clerk has a problem with me when I apply for a marriage license or refuses to process my homestead tax exemption because they don’t agree with my family structure, that is when I will be lawyering up…

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  11. I don’t often comment on your blog, but read it regularly. I love your point of view, I love your family and I love that there are more humans like us standing up for what we believe. And I don’t just mean gays…I mean people who believe that EVERYONE deserves the right to marry, to love, to patronize stores and to live their lives. I will be sharing this on my blog’s Facebook page, because I’ve been trying to find the words to say what you’ve said here…and I can’t do it better. Thank you for what you do. I was on a TV interview a few years ago after my blog was written about by a local newspaper and I said that by my husband and I living our lives we are showing everyone around us that we are just like everyone else. Again…thank you.

    • Thanks, Brian. I’m glad you commented. I agree that just living our lives openly and honestly is the best way to gain acceptance. When we show we have nothing to hide, then everyone else knows they have nothing to fear. Of course, there will always be those who are determined to hate and whip up fear in others. There are still racists and anti-Semites, etc., even though society overwhelmingly looks down on those prejudices. But we’ve made great strides and will continue to do so. Overall, the government does need to protect minorities, but I think we’re finally at a time in our history where the general population and the marketplace will take care of bigotry on its own if we let it.

  12. Very well stated. I completely agree…there is no room for discrimination here. I am certain I would experience the same throw-up-everything-I’d-eaten-for-the-past-week feeling if I approached a business that had a sign posted reading “we reserve the right to refuse service to middle-aged, straight, white women. I, too, am tired of it all, so let’s take your approach to move beyond it. Thank you.

    • Thanks. And that’s just my point. It’s not OK to put a happy, innocent face on bigotry, and the government shouldn’t allow it as they have here. I came out and admitted who I am, now it’s the bigots’ turn to be honest about who they are. Then the public can decide whose side they want to take.

  13. Talk about wanting to have one’s wedding cake and eat it too, unknown “Christian” bakeries!

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  16. The joke’s on Barney though, he served all sorts of gay people including you, without being any wiser. Who knows how much of his own living depended on gay people’s business? Might sound that eventually he got the better end of the deal, but in truth, it just proves the owner is a complete moron.

  17. Beautifully written. I’m a straight guy, but reading this made me so angry, so I can only imagine what you might have felt. And when I get the chance, I will fight for Human rights too.

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