The NBA, which I love, has just made a big decision. It has announced that it’s moving its 2017 All Star Game from Charlotte, North Carolina, as a direct, specific response to North Carolina enacting law HB2. Known as the ‘bathroom bill’, HB2 says people must use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate. The NBA regards this law as discriminatory, and is taking a stand by removing its showpiece event from the state. The NBA is being widely praised for this move; key figures have described the decision as ‘[a] stand for inclusion and respect’ and ‘extremely poignant’.
This is worth noticing. For one thing, it reminds us of the speed and the magnitude of the moral revolution going on around us. Today, an entire community can be punished (to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue – not to mention losing the actual game, for anyone who cares about that kind of thing) because its lawmakers say that people have to use the bathroom that matches their biological gender. Serious social and economic retribution for passing a law that would have been taken for granted just a few years ago. The times they are a-changin’.
But I think there’s something more important at stake. I believe this exposes the double standards that much of our culture has adopted around these issues. On the one hand, a powerful sports league takes a stand against a decision it dislikes and is praised for being inclusive and taking a stand against discrimination. Or Bruce Springsteen is praised for cancelling a concert in North Carolina to protest HB2. But on the other hand, a baker says to a gay couple, ‘sorry, but I can’t support your wedding without violating my conscience; please go to another baker’. Or a photographer declines to photograph a gay wedding because they can’t support the event in good conscience. The baker and the photographer are described as hate-filled bigots and homophobes.
Personally, I don’t particularly like the NBA’s decision. I think it’s heavy-handed and over-the-top. I think they’re missing the good intention behind HB2, and that even if they don’t agree with the law, they should have taken a more sympathetic view of what North Carolina was trying to achieve. After all, there are two competing needs: the need to make sure transgender people are respected and included, and the need to protect people (including children) from predatory types who may exploit transgender bathroom laws to spy on people in bathrooms (which has already happened). North Carolina erred on one side of a tricky issue, and is being punished for making the ‘wrong’ choice. But in the end, if the NBA’s decision-makers feel strongly enough about this issue, that’s their choice. I may not like the decision, but they’re free to take their business elsewhere.
But shouldn’t we ask: if Bruce Springsteen and the NBA are free to follow their consciences and take a respectful stand by withholding their business in one instance, will Christians (and others) be free to follow their consciences and take a respectful stand by withholding their business in other instances? Time will tell, but I’m not all that optimistic. A moral revolution this fast might not have time to slow down and make sure it’s being consistent.