Like most of LGBTQ America, when I heard the news about the Supreme Court ruling 7-2 in favor of the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, I was floored. How could the Supreme Court rule in favor of such clear discrimination and bias?
I could have easily have seen a 5-4 or 6-3 decision, but 7-2? Clearly this was a death blow to LGBTQ rights, our own version of Plessy vs. Ferguson. I was mad, I was offended, I wanted to shout at the world. I also had a day job to go to. Writing isn't my full-time gig, and so I managed to only catch the first announcements of the decision and the first social media takes. I made my outraged tweet and moved on to work, which was quite busy that morning (Hi boss. I know you read my articles, and no I don't spend all day on Twitter, or Reddit, or Facebook, or TV Tropes, etc.).
I would occassionally check Twitter and read some of the clarifications of what the court actually said, while many LGBTQ people, hot takers, and comedians were screaming bloody murder about the decision. However through all of this, I didn't have time to stop and really dig into the ruling.
This was a huge mistake. One thing I have grown to hate about social media is that it has made innate human behavior worse. People have a tendency to take the first bit of information they hear and cling to it, especially if it reaffirms something they already think or believe. I know you think you don't do that, but you do, we all do, and yes that includes me too. That's the opening part of this article! This tendency to cling to that bit of info, mixed with the "gotta get my take in and make it loud to get noticed" nature of social media means that if you don't shout your opinion the most aggressively, you're not gonna get noticed. This also means that people gravitate towards these kinds of takes and quickly signal boost them, and as someone with an internet addiction can attest, that affirmative feedback can be like crack.
So was the Masterpiece ruling really a victory for anti-LGBTQ groups in America? According to actual legal experts; no, not really. But was it a setback to LGBTQ equality? Again no, not really. Once you get beyond the "Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Baker Who Turned Away Gay Couple," and the very misleadingly titled "In Narrow Decision, Court Sides With Baker," (no, the 7-2 ruling isn't narrow in terms of a close decision, the reach of the ruling is) and get into the meat of the decision, you see that it's actually rather nuanced. In writing the decision, Justice Kennedy, the true neutral on the court, managed to affirm protections for LGBTQ people and free speech. Seems contradictory to say LGBTQ people deserve equality, but to decide in favor of discrimination, doesn't it?
Here's the catch: the Colorado Civil Rights Commission acted with open hostility towards religion in its decision against the owner of the bakery, according to the court, going so far at one point to call the bakers beliefs "the most despicable pieces of rhetoric...to hurt others" and compared his beliefs to justifications of slavery and the Holocaust. This in the court's view meant that their decision was so biased it was unconstitutional. Their ruling also basically states, "this decision doesn't count in other LGBTQ civil rights versus religious belief cases" and this decision was a one-off based on these specific circumstances (hence the "narrow" description) and shouldn't serve as precedent for other similar cases.
Some legal experts will argue that this decision will be bad for LGBTQ equality and others will say it's not the disaster some make it out to be. Whichever group you side with is up to you.
But when it comes to hot takes, it's easy to fall for them. Not even a week and a half ago, when it came to the issue of ICE losing 1,500 kids, people were trading barbs on Twitter saying, "Listen to this person they know what they are talking about," to endorse someone's counter argument to another's over the issue. These weren't even Left vs. Right, but Left vs. Left arguments being made by experts. Some people in these fights were "familiar with it and have sometimes worked in the field" or "I've been reading," which doesn't exactly make them experts. When it comes to immigration law and policy, I would prefer someone who works full time in the field over someone who "has worked at times" in it. Now imagine how I feel about someone with absolutely no more familiarity on the subject than the average person weighing in, using platitudes and broad generalities, much less wrong facts and repeated rumors.
These days, a lot of us are super freaked out about the Trump administration and its encroaching authoritarianism and blatant corruption. We're constantly on edge and feeling worn out. For the past year and a half we have been running from one freak out to another and our ability to act rationally, especially in the shouty, panic inducing, atmosphere of social media is pretty much gone. So when something that sounds bad comes along, we have developed a tendency to completely go on a completely mindless rampage. There are people out there who will amplify this with rhetoric that is no more informed or insightful than the average person, but they know how to push the right buttons to spread it like it's unchallenged truth. I too can pop off with a take that's wrong and uninformed and yes, even inflammatory. I certainly regret it when I do and try to own it. However, I also try to always be critical and look to the experts and those in the know to see what they have to say before I start tossing molotov cocktails through Twitter windows.
Sometimes, in cases like the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, we are not served by immediate reaction takes and hyperbole by those who are merely charismatic or funny. Listen to actual people in the know, like journalists and people who passed the Bar Exam. Which specific experts is up to you, but you and our collective anxiety will be better served by them than the hot-taker with the hilarious feed.