The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Do Your Job

It’s pretty straightforward. You read the job description. You took the job Now, do your job.

Couples apply for marriage licenses at the San Francisco city clerk’s office

On Wednesday, San Diego County Clerk Gregory Smith said he would consider allowing clerks to bow out of processing such marriages if they had moral or religions objections.

“I was pretty shocked about all that, candidly, and pretty outraged,” San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom told Reuters in an interview.

“This is a civil marriage that civil servants have a responsibility to provide, so for civil servants on religious grounds to start passing judgments, they, I think, are breaking the core tenet of what civil service is all about.”

“I’ve got very strong religious beliefs. So now, all of a sudden, I don’t have to do certain things, even though that’s my responsibility as mayor?”

…The mayor, who said he will wed his actress girlfriend in a ceremony in Montana this summer, suggested that clerks who refused to marry gays in California should lose their jobs.

“If that is their job and they are going to be able to pick and choose based on their morality, then all of a sudden they are not doing their jobs,” said Newsom, a Democrat thinking about running for governor to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“If you don’t want to provide a marriage certificate and you’ve got a job that does that, then you should think twice about why you got the job in the first place and maybe you should get a new job,” he continued. “Talk about a slippery slope, Mr. County Clerk down in San Dieg

Here’s the thing, though. I’m willing to say the same thing for myself.

The day’s of “We don’t serve your kind here,” are supposed to be over. At least, that’s what we hope. So why, when it comes to same-sex marriage, should there be an exception? Would the city clerks get a pass if they had a religious objection to interracial marriage? Some people do. Bob Jones University had a rule against interracial dating among its students until 2000, when they finally did away with it.

Better yet. If I’m working in a certain field, it is going to be up to me whether I do my job or not based on who happens to come through the door? If I’m a vegetarian, am I going to refuse to serve a meat eater? Say that I work in a restaurant. Am I going to have the right to refuse to carry that steak tartar to the table and keep my job?

Say that I’m a doctor, and I find out that one of my patients is a card-carrying member of the John Birch Society or some such. What then? Or say that I’m a doctor with very conservative religious beliefs. If I’m a gynecologist, am I going to get a pass if I refuse to treat, say, an unmarried pregnant woman? What if I’m a fertility specialist, and my patient is a lesbian?

Guadalupe Benitez of Oceanside, California, went to a local medical practice that was covered by her insurance to receive treatment for polycystic ovarian syndrome. In 1999, she was finally ready to attempt to get pregnant through artificial insemination. That’s when her doctors, citing religious objection to aiding lesbian parenthood, refused to perform the procedure. Benitez, now 36 and the mother of a 6-year-old boy and 2-year-old twin girls, sued her doctors for discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Benitez alleges that her doctors treated her with fertility drugs but refused to conduct the IVF procedure saying that doing so for a lesbian patient went against their religious beliefs. She also alleges that her doctors gave her instruction on how to inseminate herself but refused to handle the procedure themselves. Benitez’s doctors, Christine Brody and Douglas Fenton, refused to perform the IVF procedure for her in 2000. In 2001, Benitez she sued them, claiming that they “violated a California state law that bars for-profit businesses from ‘arbitrarily’ discriminating against clients based on characteristics such as race, age and sexual orientation,” the Daily Women’s Health Policy Report notes. Prior to 2000, the California Supreme Court had ruled that businesses could not deny services based on sexual orientation but it did not rule against discrimination based on a person’s marital status until 2005.

What if my patient is a gay man, whose partner shows up at the hospital with medical power of attorney and an advance directive? If recognizing their relationship is against my religious beliefs, do I still have to honor their documents? Do I have to share information about my patient’s condition with his partner? Do I have to treat his partner as a family member even though, according to my beliefs, he’s not family?

What if I’m an atheist doctor, and my patient is a “Bible-believing,” evangelical? Can I deny them service? What if I’m waiting tables, and a customer whom I think is overweight orders a double bacon cheeseburger with a double order of fries, an extra large coke, a chocolate shake and a slice of cheesecake? Can I refuse to serve it to him, and expect to keep my job?

I’m even willing to apply the same principle to people who aren’t religious conservatives. While I was writing this blog post, I kept remembering a Washington Post column about another case of refusing service.

Mia Lazarus put her chips and juice down on the counter and prepared to pay. But in the midst of the lunchtime rush, the cashier’s eyes wandered to Lazarus’s T-shirt, which expressed a political message that proved to be overwhelming for the clerk.

One glance at the words “Baltimore Zionist District” on Lazarus’s “I Stand for Israel” T-shirt, and the cashier at the Maryland Food Collective, a crunchy grocery and sandwich shop in the student union on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus, blurted: “Your shirt offends me. I won’t ring you up.” The cashier told Lazarus she could go to the back of the store to find another clerk.

In this odd political climate, when many people find their worth and identity in the fine art of taking offense, this confrontation at a campus lunch spot has blossomed into a seminar on constitutional rights. The loser is free speech.

Lazarus got her food; another cashier at the independent, worker-owned co-op was willing to take the student’s money. But the incident led to the creation of a Facebook site on which some students called for a boycott of the food co-op; an hours-long, teary meeting at which Lazarus and her friends hashed things out with the collective; and then an agreement.

The collective, which rents space from the university, announced last week that it would serve any customer who was not physically or verbally abusive, but that any worker who was offended by a customer’s politics could discreetly slip away and find another clerk to serve the patron.

The collective’s policy statement said it “respects the right of an individual worker or volunteer to remove themselves from the work environment and to choose not to act as an agent of the store.”

In the law, this is known as discrimination. But a good many college students don’t see it that way. Amazingly, virtually everyone involved on both sides of this incident is perfectly pleased with the new policy.

I see the situation above as being the same as the situation at the fertility clinic. I’ve worked in many different jobs, and a lot of them in the service industry. I waited tables in college and served food to people who were clearly racist. (Except for one group that actually moved to another section after I introduced myself as their server.) I’ve worked in bookstores and sold all kinds of titles to all kinds of people. If someone comes with a GOP lapel pin wanting to buy one of James Dobson’s books, guess what? I gotta sell it to him, if I want to keep my job. And that’s as it should be. If I don’t want to sell those kinds of books to those kinds of customers, then I’d better find a different kind of bookstore to work in.

The thing is, as Jill points out, it’s not about “religious freedom.” (No ones telling them what to believe, after all. But if their beliefs mean they can’t carry out the tasks inherent to the job…)

But at least they’re being honest here: It’s not about “life.” It’s not about babies. It’s about social control. It’s about whose lives are deemed worthy, and which choices fit into the narrow worldview of religious conservatives. The “pro-life” opposition to abortion and contraception doesn’t come from a serious concern for all those fertilized egg-babies out there; it comes out of a concern for changing gender roles, and the evolution of the family into a unit that is increasingly non-patriarchal, egalitarian and diverse. It’s very much about a class of viewpoints: The feminist/humanist/scientific/modern view, which wants to allow individuals the right to self-determination, and the conservative/regressive view, which wants to take us back to a Golden Era of the family that never actually existed in real life, wherein men were in charge and women knew their place.

It’s a vision that most people in this country don’t want — which is why anti-choicers and conservatives have to hang their arguments on abortion and babies. But as this case shows, it’s not about that at all. It’s about flat-out hostility towards women who buck the role these men would like to pin on them.

Jill also has a good handle on where line is crossed.

Making reasonable religious accommodations is important, and I’m not an absolutist who says that your religion should always be left at home. It’s not hard to take reasonable actions — for example, in a lot of jobs, it’s not too tough to let your Jewish employees have Saturday off instead of Sunday, or let Orthodox employees go home a little early on Fridays. Or, if you’re in a large hospital and you know one of the doctors is strongly anti-choice, it’s reasonable to ask another doctor to perform an emergency abortion, if there are lots of doctors around and prepared to do the procedure.

But accommodations become unreasonable when they burden the people you are supposed to be serving. Medicine is a unique profession in that you’re dealing with peoples’ lives and their health, and refusing to provide them care is a lot more serious than, say, the guy at the corner store closing up shop a few hours early once a week, or one of the attorneys at your firm leaving early on Friday.

Of course, I think part of the point is to burden the people they’re supposed to be serving, in some cases.

When these folks started working at City Hall, sure, same-sex coupled couldn’t get married. Now they can, in California. So, why should these folks get to pick and choose when they’re going to uphold the laws of the state? Are people’s sensibilities going to be offended? Yes. People’s sensibilities were offended when they had to sit next to black people on the bus. They’re sensibilities were offended when black folks moved inot their neighborhoods. Their sensibilities were offended when black kids started going to school with theirs.

Their sensibilities will be offended at the thought of black people in the White House.

People’s sensibilities are always offended by progress if they think that a particular injustice should stand.

But that’s no reason to let an injustice stand. people have a way of being offended and continuing to survive. Thrive, even.

So, San Francisco city Diego clerks, do your job. Or don’t, and go look for work elsewhere.


  1. Pingback: Just do your damn job « Greg Prince’s Blog

  2. i have always wondered about the secularity/ neutrality of the state. we know, in theory, that the state should be neutral to religious beliefs (if a secular state), but we’ve also realized in practice this never ever happens. now, i’ve also wondered – without being able to come to a definite conclusion – about allowing bureaucrats to express/ exhibit their religious beliefs. a similar debate in Canada focused on allowing RCMP officers and judges to exhibit religious dressing codes. i’ll say it is a complex matter, and i feel torn between allowing people to be true to themselves and the (granted, Western, secular) view of the state and the bureaucrat as ‘neutral’. your post adds yet another layer to this complexity, thanks!


    The Clerks in San Francisco are performing their duties, or at least planning to, it is the clerks from other counties such as SAN DIEGO KERN and possibly others. Don’t let that final line insult San Francisco any more.

    Kern County is at least 291 miles away and San Diego is at least 500 miles away.

    Great post, just clean up that last line.