Many are lauding the Supreme Court ruling in the Masterpiece Cake case as a win for First Amendment rights, while others are saying it sets a precedent for legal anti-gay discrimination. The truth is that this case was a loss for both sides by being deemed court-worthy at all.
We’re at the point where it’s no longer enough to tolerate other people’s lifestyles. Anything but a fervent personal affirmation of gay marriage and homosexuality is now considered uncouth. Disagreeing with gay marriage isn’t just socially unacceptable, it’s getting to the point where it’s not allowed – a thought crime. More and more people seem to think it should be illegal.
Voiced disagreement against the practice of same-sex marriage (while still treating gay individuals with kindness and dignity) is now equated to discrimination, and has become a litigable offense. This “either you’re with us, or you’re against us” thinking creates an atmosphere that restricts difference of opinion and limits free expression.
In reality, everyone should have the right to live and behave in ways that best suit them, so long as doing so does not cause physical harm to those they disagree with. Allowing business owners to determine who they are willing to serve is not a new concept. “We reserve the right to refuse service” used to be a sign commonly found posted in shop windows, restaurants, and gas stations. Even though they are still within legal bounds, these signs no longer have the holding power they once did, as public accommodation laws have expanded to ensure that a business’s refusal of service is not aimed at one particular race, sex, or religious group.
Despite these protections, an attempt to refuse service is frequently met with outrage and immediately equated with personal discrimination, when in many cases the business is making a decision based on policies, such as dress codes, that apply to all patrons. The knee-jerk reaction of those being challenged is now to demand a government solution to removing the barriers they find in their way. It seems ironic that a movement that has roots in seeking acceptance has now begun demanding that certain lifestyle choices or religious-based acts, such as refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, be banned.
We seem to have forgotten that there are numerous ways to show disagreement that do not involve government action. While business owners and individuals have the right to voice their dissent to same-sex marriage, they also must then face the social and cultural consequences that come along with that. Dissent for gay rights carries a cultural stigma, and any business owner willing to vocalize that is likely to face a loss of business as a result.
Instead of demanding that business owners be forced into compulsory service to all, consumers have the ability to patronize only businesses whose policies they agree with. Doing so harms the reputation of the business in question, and also will result in inability to continue operating, if enough customers choose to take their business elsewhere.
This free market approach has already been exemplified by consumers boycotting Starbucks, Chick-fil-a, and other businesses for promoting social views they disagreed with. This “loyalty economy” has been growing since 2007 and has been gaining increased media attention. More than half of consumers are willing to buy or boycott a brand based on politics, and Pepsi faced a boycott and public outrage after airing a social justice commercial that fell flat.
Anyone who has ever been on Yelp knows that negative opinions and first-hand accounts regularly act as a faster, more effective deterrent than any legal proceeding. By voicing dissent within the free market, we help promote businesses that represent our interests while contributing to the failure of those we disagree with. This is considerably more empowering than trying to force a business to comply with our standards, and also keeps free expression intact for both parties.
By asking the government to force the hand of those who disagree with us, we open the door to our own future forced actions. While the Masterpiece Cake Shop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission decision may be seen by some as a loss for the gay community, the case itself was indicative of a much more ominous societal undercurrent, where citizens look to government to force agreement and rely on the court system to validate their gripes.
Moving forward, we need to decide if trying to force agreement is worth the potential dystopian-like consequences of a society in which disagreement becomes a criminal offense, and free expression becomes restricted to mainstream views. In the meantime, the ability for a baker to uphold his religious beliefs and the concurrent ability for gay rights activists to boycott him is something that should be celebrated.