Discrimination against gays is a hot topic these days, whether it’s a bakery refusing to prepare a wedding cake for a same-sex couple or state legislators attempting to codify the rights of business owners to run their companies in accordance with their religious convictions. The political left and mainstream media are arguing that some individuals—homosexuals in this instance—have a right to demand services from other individuals in the name of “equal rights.” They’ve gone so far to label legislation that seeks to protect the right of businesses to decide who to do—or not to do—business as “anti-gay.”
They’re missing the point.
There’s a core Constitutional principle involved here. As Americans, we are free to say or print whatever we wish so long as it does not violate the rights of others. We are free to associate with whomever we choose and generally live our lives as we wish, again, as long as we don’t trample the rights of others. We do not, however, have a right to be heard when we speak or to force anyone to read what we publish. Others get to make those decisions.
I recognize that there are some close calls that challenge this basic principle. For example, is one’s drug use completely self-contained or should the state set restrictions because others will be affected by one’s abuse? This post does not seek to resolve such issues. My point is that the freedom to make business decisions in accordance with one’s personal moral convictions does not represent a close call.
As consumers, we cherish the right to shop wherever we want. For example, African-Americans are often implored to spend their money with “black-owned businesses” or shop “in their own communities.” Citizens in small towns are often encouraged to buy from locally owned businesses or purchase locally grown produce. Those of us who consider such factors when deciding where to shop are practicing discrimination. Whether or not others agree with the decisions, they are respected as individual choices.
But those on the other side of the transaction do not enjoy the same respect. Companies are told how to make hiring decisions, how much they have to pay, and what benefits they must offer. Catholic hospitals are told that they must include contraception as part of their health coverage. Private organizations cannot refuse to serve customers on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin. Now they are being told that they must transact business with individuals even when doing so violates their religious liberty.
If you think I’m overstating the issue, consider that the NFL threatened to move the 2015 Super Bowl out of Arizona if Governor Brewer signed SB-1062. Everyone seems to respect the NFL’s right to make such a decision. This is how individuals and corporations wield influence. I wouldn’t have agreed with the NFL, but I would have recognized it as their decision. I don’t have to watch the game if I don’t want to. That’s my decision.
I can understand some of the requirements placed on businesses, at least in context. Given that our laws once encouraged or required companies to discriminate against certain groups of individuals—namely Americans of African descent—one can argue that the Civil Rights Act was needed to shift society in the opposite direction. Nonetheless, anti-discrimination laws—no matter how well intended—are not the best way to address problems in a free, open, and informed society. They inevitably legalize and legitimize one form of discrimination in an attempt to mitigate another.
Consider the bakery example. If one bakery refuses to provide a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, this becomes a business opportunity for another bakery. The affected couple is free to share its experience with others, who are also free to factor this information into their future bakery decisions. In the end, each bakery is disciplined by the market and almost everyone gets they products and services they need.
It’s a shame that Governor Brewer didn’t sign SB-1062 and a greater shame such a bill became necessary in the first place. Anyone who refers to this type of legislation as anti-gay either doesn’t understand or is evading the real issue—liberty.