In case you’ve been living under a rock, in 2012 a baker in Colorado refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, claiming a moral opposition to gay marriage. In Craig v. Masterpiece Cakeshop, the judge dismissed the bakery’s claim that being required to provide the service violated its owner’s right to free speech or religious expression. After failed appeals, the bakery opted to stop baking wedding cakes altogether rather than serve them to gay couples.
I find myself uncomfortable with legal enforcement of non-discrimination in private business, which puts me at odds with many friends. I supposedly act contrary to self-interest as a bisexual woman. I just happen to really appreciate the concept of freedom of association.
The Bill of Rights doesn’t explicitly use the phrase, but in Boy Scouts of America et al v. Dale, it was determined to be an implicit right indicated by the First Amendment. This case determined that exclusion was a constitutionally protected right when association would significantly affect a group’s ability to advocate their views.
Freedom of association and discrimination are two sides of the same coin. By being able to determine your personal values and differences in a diverse society, you can create unfortunate prejudices against those outside your associations. I simply become uncomfortable with government limiting people’s associations and exclusions in the private sector, as this causes people to feel their ability to make their own choices is limited and impinges upon their voluntary actions.
I think many of us, regardless of religion, make daily distinctions about who we are, what sort of people we affiliate with, and what we choose to support, or not. From political candidates to not donating to the Salvation Army, we discriminate to determine our associations and identities.
So, when I find out a baker doesn’t want to bake wedding cakes for gay weddings, I may find that petty and mean; but I realize that he has a moral judgement he is allowed to make, and I wouldn’t want to force anyone to do something outside of their moral comfort zone. I would not wish to serve a racist or an abuser, for example, and would find it problematic if the state violently forced my association with them through threats of fines or imprisonment.
Particularly in business, the point is to serve customers and get money for it, so being too picky about your customers can be like shooting yourself in the foot. For me, the key is that I assume we’d rather be informed about who goes out of their way to actively work against our morals or lifestyle. Wouldn’t we rather make sure those people don’t get our money? That money may be given to their church which preaches hatred, or pay their child’s education in a school with similiar teachings. I don’t know why anyone would want to give money to people who hate them—boycotting businesses is fine, but to legally force your own judgements is intolerant and problematic, as I believe diversity requires the ability to peacefully associate.
Business owners should be able to choose their associations, and be hateful or intolerant and choose not to serve us.
The most peaceful response is also choice of association — to choose not to patronize them, so they can learn that hatred and intolerance don’t serve them either.