on same-sex marriages and wedding cakes

So this week the Supreme Court sort of ruled in favor of the Colorado baker who didn’t want to make a cake for a same-sex wedding case. The case has to be heard again, and was a narrow ruling despite the 7-2 vote, or if you prefer in meme form:

But I wanted to talk about the case in general. I can understand feeling put-upon having to do creative work for something you don’t support. I think I’m kind of OK in this specific case with letting the guy not bake the cake, especially since in this day and age the number of people that would refuse to do so would be hopefully few, even in more conservative areas. (I think?)

The problem is that this is a pretty slippery slope. I’m not a huge fan in general of slippery-slope arguments, but what about:

  • A wedding photographer who doesn’t want to take pictures at a same-sex wedding
  • A cake baker who doesn’t approve of interracial couples and doesn’t want to bake a cake for them
  • A wedding DJ who doesn’t want to play music for an African-American couple
  • A pediatrician who doesn’t believe same-sex couples should have children and doesn’t want to treat them
  • A hotel clerk who doesn’t approve of same-sex couples sharing a room
  • A grocery checkout clerk who believes condoms are immoral and doesn’t want to ring them up

That hotel clerk one is not really a hypothetical – African-Americans had to deal with this sort of thing up until the 1960s, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade that kind of racial discrimination.

For me personally, I generally feel like people should do their jobs, and providing a service to someone isn’t an endorsement of their life. If we have some sort of exemption for people producing a creative work for an actual wedding ceremony, I would probably be OK with that as long as it was extremely narrowly tailored.

8 thoughts on “on same-sex marriages and wedding cakes”

  1. From a business perspective, why turn away any kind of sale, despite your personal prejudices? A sale is a sale. Because he added his opinion to it, that seems to be more of a poor business decision. A bad experience with businesses travels more than good experiences. I think the statistics are something like you seven times more likely to tell your friends of a negative experience with a restaurant than recommend a good experience with friends. When a person does turn down doing business with another person, why must they provide a reason? Then again, must the customer provide a reason for what they want to use the product for? Especially for something as benign as a cake?

    It’s not like I ask people what they intend to do with the books I sell. Are you really going to read that book? Or, do you intend to take it to a book burning? Or, are you using it for toilet paper? Or, will that book be used as a door stop? I don’t care why you buy the book or what you do with it. I would prefer customers to read it, but hey…a sale is a sale. Cha-ching!

    Most of those examples are people turning away good business. I think it is ridiculous. And, in most instances, (I would hope) that another merchant would get the business that was turned down. The one I have the most trouble with is the pediatrician. Don’t doctors still take a vow of “first do no harm”? If a doctor refused to treat a patient with a life-threatening illness, they could lose their license to practice.


    1. Why turn them away? I can think of lots of reasons. For any practice X that you don’t like:
      A) You may get more support from those who also oppose X — opposing X is a form of advertising. This is exactly what happened with this bakery.
      B) You deprive the people who practice X of participation in the economic sphere, which helps keep them on the fringes of society and therefore away from you and yours. That was the basis of businesses supporting Jim Crow laws in the south.
      C) You degrade them as a way of making them change their behavior — that’s exactly what is happening with the #MeToo movement ostracizing harassers. We are seeing sweeping changes in behavior as a result.
      D) You feel better about yourself. See Google employees telling Google to not work on AI weapons for the US military recently.

      There are likely plenty more. Essentially, choosing to do business with someone is a moral decision, always, and it can be used for causes both positive and negative (and which is which depends greatly upon your point of view of the particular moral issue).

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Actually, a doctor can refuse to treat a patient for any reason (life threatening illness or not). If it’s not an established patient, there is no legal necessity to treat. License not in jeopardy. Now, ethically of course, we should hold ourselves to higher standards. I think this case demonstrates an important facet of that- I don’t have to agree with my patients lifestyle choices – whether it is Blue hair, practicing Wicca, or being polyamorous, or running a cat gymnastics facility. None of that should affect my ability to care for them in a polite and genuine manner. So, I absolutely agree that we should not discriminate; everyone deserves good care. (The one personal caveat I make is that I do not tolerate abuse of any kind of myself or my staff. Yelling, hitting, racial slurs, throwing things, or repeated cursing is grounds for termination of our relationship. If a life threatening situation, I will wait until it’s over or i can appropriately transition care to another physician).

      Other private business don’t necessarily have to be held to the same standard, but from a business perspective – well customers and customers.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. I could see baking and designing a cake as more akin to “being hired to commission a poem for” instead of “selling a book to”. And yeah, I think Stephen listed some good reasons below that people have done this in the past 🙂

      Again, I don’t think selling something to someone as a general endorsement of their lifestyle, so I generally agree with you, but certainly not everyone does…


  2. I don’t think private business owners should be required to do business with anyone, ever. I would never sing at a wedding for neo-Nazis or print a racist slogan on a T-shirt. I wouldn’t rent my house to someone who had previously committed a crime or even appeared to be a drug user. I wouldn’t let my children pet sit for a neighbor who used profanity or had weapons or pornographic material laying around their house. The list goes on and on. It would be MY choice, and if it affects my business negatively because I lose customers, then that’s my choice, too. The government is not my moral authority.


    1. It’s interesting because as I understand it, discriminating based on behavior is generally OK – if someone is raising a ruckus in your bar, you don’t have to allow them to stay, etc.

      But we’ve decided as a society that we don’t want to allow a hotel to say “we don’t serve African-Americans” as a policy. (in the Civil Rights Act of 1964) In that bill the same thing is true for national origin and religion. These are either characteristics that aren’t a choice (i.e. race) or important enough that we don’t want to allow discrimination even though it is a choice (i.e. religion). And I think that’s the principle that people generally understand. So as I said above, if we want to make some sort of very narrowly-tailored exception for creative works at a wedding ceremony itself, I’m not too concerned, but I don’t want to extend it very much.

      It may be your choice not to serve someone but your choice has a consequence on the other person as well…

      (of course, all this ignores the fact that you could conveniently find a reason to deny someone service not because they’re African-American but because of some totally innocuous behavior, but I guess that’s what court cases are for :-/ )


  3. Let’s just make sure that we are clear on the varying things we are discussing. We could be discussing this from a personal morality, a religious morality, a business practicality, overall best for society, etc. People above here have analyzed this from several different perspectives and we have to make sure we at least know what the other person is analyzing it from.

    From a legal perspective, in Colorado, a *public business* (i.e. something open to the general public, so not renting your house, your kid being a neighborhood babysitter, nor a teacher mowing a few yards to earn extra bucks in the summer (poor underpaid teachers)) is not allowed to turn anyway someone *ONLY BECAUSE* of certain inborn, immutable characteristics race, gender and sexual orientation (and a few other protected classes). (note some of this is federal too and someday all of it will be federal). They pick only a few characteristics to protect and only those that are for the more historically and currently vulnerable members of society. A black person should be allowed to go into any public business and not be refused service because they are black. For all other reasons, you can kick people out of your establishment including being a Trump voter, a tree hugger (literally or figuratively) or a parent!

    The legal justification is that in being a *public* business, you are entering society and using government services and thus already have to play by some standard rules to get those benefits which seems fair because you also get a lot of benefits with it (like the cops protecting your shop from being robbed and the court system having your back if a customer doesn’t pay). And we as a society generally decided that another one of those rules, if you’re using society and government resources and setting up a public shop on Main Street, is you can’t discriminate against the most vulnerable in society for characteristics they have no control over (gender, race, country of origin, sexual orientation). That was a balance and restriction we generally agreed to because we felt it generally made us a better society. Yes, it is a slight infringement on totally free speech and totally free religion and total freedom of association but only in the business sphere for a public business. The **Constitution** doesn’t guarantee you the ability to earn money in a particular way while also having your freedom of religion make it where a black person can’t find a place to eat in a small town.

    Now, morally, apart from legally, I actually agree with this as well. I think this is the moral thing to do.

    Liked by 1 person

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