Who Decides?

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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.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. GINO  •  Feb 27, 2014 @5:06 PM

    I read this blog all the time and I am a strong conservative but you are wrong. Sexual orientation is a civil right. If you can refuse to serve someone because they’re gay then they don’t have equal rights. Business regulation like this is needed because companies usually don’t act in the general social interest on their own.

  2. kelsey  •  Feb 27, 2014 @5:30 PM

    there is no such thing as general social interest

  3. Aliza  •  Feb 28, 2014 @10:21 AM

    What about the liberty of gays to decide who they want to love? what about their right to peruse happiness? Not preparing a wedding cake for a same sex couple is not a business decision. If it is, then this is a poor one, cause what business owner will turn down decent people who want to pay for his/her products and take the risk of being boycotted by the entire gay community? It is clearly a political/ social statement aimed to exclude gays from the public sphere. This is dangerous and I wish that people had learned a lesson from what happened in Germany and also here in America.

  4. Jack  •  Feb 28, 2014 @2:31 PM

    Not baking a cake for a same sex couple IS a business decision. It might be a poor one, but it’s one the business owner should be able to make. If government makes the decision, then the bakery is being forced into servitude. I thought this ended with the Civil War.

  5. Aliza  •  Feb 28, 2014 @7:01 PM

    So WHO makes the decision is more important than WHAT are the consequences of it? Had we lived in a perfect world, in a truly pluralistic society, regulations of this kind would have not been necessary.

  6. Devin  •  Feb 28, 2014 @10:17 PM

    What gives Aliza the right to force someone to do something because SHE thinks the consequences will be better? How does she know? Why can’t she just let people run their own lives? Freedom has a much better track record than state control. Most people make the right decisions. Most governments don’t.

  7. Chris  •  Mar 2, 2014 @5:22 PM

    Sexual orientation is not a ‘civil right’. Where does that come from? Nobody has an issue with who somebody loves, but many folks (more than not) do have an issue with homosexual behavior. A Christian bakery who refuses to bake a cake isn’t concerning itself with love, it has an issue with what that customer puts in their mouth after the cake is gone. Love is not the issue, behavior is. It seems as though the term ‘gay’ is used to mask what is actually going on, which is quite repulsive to most people in this country.

    Does a business owner have the right to refuse service to somebody not wearing a shirt? Is wearing a shirt, or not wearing one a civil right? What about serving a beer to somebody who appears to be intoxicated? Can we force that business owner to serve them? What about a homosexual that doesn’t have a shirt on? Which is more important? I agree with Doc Parnell. If I own a business, I should be able to deny service to anybody I choose as long as it is within the law and for good reason, such as public safety or my constitutionally protected religious beliefs. The Constitution clearly protects the free exercise of religion, does it not? A bakery that refuses to bake a cake for a homosexual marriage only forfeits that business to the next bakery. This may be a poor business decision, but it’s theirs to make. Chic-fil-a is not open on Sundays because of the religious beliefs of the owner. If I want a chicken sandwich on Sunday, are we going to force them to open? This whole argument is ridiculous. Who out there will argue that we should force them to open on Sunday?

    If a business doesn’t want my money, I go somewhere else. I don’t try and force some social agenda item down their throat, especially when it comes to their religious beliefs. I respect their beliefs, which is something the ‘tolerant’ left doesn’t do if it is contrary to their own. So when are we going to start forcing Muslim owned businesses to serve pork. Hey, if I go there and demand pork, who are they to deny me what I want? Brewer should have signed that bill and protected the Constitutional rights of business owners in the state of Arizona. The NFL can pound sand.

  8. Pedro Garcia  •  Mar 4, 2014 @4:59 PM

    If you were to call the police because an unwanted guest refused to leave your house, you would probably find it strange if the police agreed to help only if they felt you had a good reason for wanting the person gone. Whether or not you are being unreasonable is, of course, irrelevant. In a free society, your home is still your home regardless of the kind of person you are. Why then should we apply different logic when it comes to someone’s business?