Sunday, December 8, 2013

An Improper Proprietor vs. The State

Turning people away who want to pay for goods or services is a bad move for any business. Doing it because of somebody's race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other factor besides previous or current behavior toward or at the place of business is unacceptable. More specifically, refusing to make a couple a wedding cake because they happen to be a gay couple is deplorable.  According to some people it is also illegal. This group includes a judge in a recent case in Colorado where that very thing happened.

The judge's decision is arguably correct based on a Colorado statute that prevents businesses from refusing service based on race, sex, marital status, or sexual orientation. But there is more to this than a question of legality. The situation begs the question of whether one group's or individual's rights are more important than those of another. The Colorado statute would have you believe that the rights of any momentarily inconvenienced peoples are more important than those of the business owner. This liberty-loving fool disagrees.

Go ahead; try to get married by a Catholic priest in a Catholic church if neither person is Catholic. Try to have a rabbi officiate your wedding when you and your betrothed are not Jewish. There are even pastors who will not officiate a wedding unless there is no alcohol involved in the entire affair (yes, that means no champagne toast). Just try to walk into a Mormon temple without tithing. But these are religious groups who are protected by federal law, right? Right. Therefore their bigotry and selectiveness is magically acceptable. They can refuse to serve you based on your religion or sexual orientation. These are examples of exactly what the owner of the bakery did. He denied someone something they wanted to spend money on because of his religious (or bigoted, or just purely ignorant) beliefs. But, why do they get to and he cannot? There are legal reasons that could be argued for days, but that's not the point of this article. So, what is the point? That will come in due time.

Many people like to link this situation with the Civil Rights Movement. That is a failure of understanding situations, and likely a failure of historical knowledge. As illustrated by the decision of the court, the people in question are a protected class in this case. (Same sex couples can't marry in Colorado, but they can gain injunctions against businesses for discriminating against them. Figure that one out. Oh, right, the terrible inconsistencies of government.) There is not a systemic segregation of gay couples from straight couples in public places. There is no law stating that gay people are to be separate, but equal. The baker didn't say, "This is a straight only establishment." No, in fact, by his own admission the baker would have sold them a birthday cake or some cookies, but would not make them a wedding cake. He did not ban them from his establishment. He just wouldn't make them this one special item. Same sex wedding cakes are not in the scope of work that he offers. Is it terrible? Yes. Is it ignorant and bigoted? Yes. Could the couple have just gone elsewhere? Yes. There are a lot of bakeries in Denver. Considering there aren't government supported "straight only" bakeries anywhere in this country it's almost certain that the next place they went would have done a fine job.

Here's the point: Nobody's rights were infringed when the baker declined the job. Yes, people's feelings were hurt. Yes, the baker lost business by his own actions, and hopefully he will continue to. However, there is something that isn't brought up enough in these kinds of cases: Freedom of association. If one person wishes to do business with another, they can. If one of those parties does not wish to enter into a business relationship with the other, they need not.

Some out there are screaming at their screens, "But the couple's rights were infringed!" Which ones? Which rights were denied? There is no right to a product of another person's labor if they don't wish for someone to have it. And yes, they can pick and choose. Especially in this case where it is a contract job and not simply an item off of the shelf. They shouldn't pick based on certain criteria, but sometimes some of them will. Most, though, need the business badly enough to take money from people who do things they don't agree with.

Until a person has sat and listened to another person explain exactly why their religious views preclude them from doing something they are capable, and in the business, of doing they will not really appreciate this situation. It's frustratingly mind numbing. But, it's their belief. It's their view. It may be offensive. It may be faulty. It must be respected. If the person tells them they have to serve him, he is the one infringing upon the rights of another. In this case, the couple used the force of law to tell the baker that he had to start making wedding cakes for same sex marriages (that are not recognized by the state in which the action took place).

Forcing someone to do something against his will is never acceptable. Telling someone you will not do a job for him may be reprehensible and bad business, but it is within one's rights. And frankly, if someone doesn't want to take my money I'm happy to spend it with someone who does.

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