Swastika Cakes and Gay Weddings

It's so rare that Jon Stewart reasons badly, but I wonder about the reasoning in his Indiana piece last night.  Start at 3:45--

Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, etc., compare the baker who refuses to "do" a gay wedding with--
  • A gay printer who refuses to print signs saying "God hates fags"
  • A black baker who refuses to bake a KKK cake
  • A Jewish baker who refuses to bake a swastika cake
Stewart than faults them for thinking a gay wedding is anything like a "God hates fags" sign, a KKK cake, or a swastika cake. Making these analogies, he says, just reveals their bigotry.

But no, I take it the idea is that all these business owners are being alleged to be alike in having reasons of conscience to turn away customers.  Nobody's saying the various things turned away are exactly alike.  Huck & Co are arguing that the freedom of conscience in question shouldn't be spurned by liberals, since there are situations in which they will want to invoke it too.

This is at least worth thinking about.  When should a business owner be able to turn away customers? We wouldn't want to restrict that freedom too much and I don't think we do.  "No shirt, no shoes, no service."  If you can turn away shoeless people presumably you can turn away all sorts of people.
The law gives businesses a lot of freedom, I take it, so long as their reasons are non-discriminatory.

Now, the gay printer, black baker, and Jewish baker wouldn't have discriminatory reasons to turn away the customers in question. It's not discriminatory to be offended by bigoted messages.  So their freedom to turn away these customers is secure. But would a baker have non-discriminatory reasons to "do" opposite sex weddings and not same sex weddings?  At least once gay marriage is legal in every state (in June, I hope), it doesn't sound as if any conservative bakers are going to be able to fuss about gay weddings.  No worries--the liberal bakers are still going to be able to take a stand against swastika cakes.

Oh my god, that's actually a thing!


Tom said...

Good point about Stewart's logic. I confess to being a bit sympathetic to the conservatives on this one (although I don't really have a settled view on the matter). And how about this as an example: suppose a gay baker decided that, as a kind of protest against the fact that gay marriage isn't universally allowed, she wouldn't do cakes for heterosexual weddings. Does that strike you as something she shouldn't be able to do?

Jean Kazez said...

It seems like the reason in that case would not be discriminatory. Yes, different couples would be treated differently, but not for a pernicious reason. You can reject white actors if you're casting someone as Martin Luther King...etc. Likewise, you can turn away straight couples, if you're a baker protesting marriage inequality. It's the reason that matters not the external facts alone.

Tom said...

Wouldn't the reason for discrimination in my example be sexual orientation? And pernicious or not, isn't that the reason for the discrimination that the fundamentalist Christian baker makes?

Aeolus said...

Discrimination in its original meaning is not necessarily a bad thing. Because it's important to be able to discriminate between red and green when operating a motor vehicle, perhaps we ought to discriminate against colour-blind people when it comes to driver's licences. By contrast, discrimination in the sense of bigotry means treating someone unfairly or in an unjustifiable manner.

It is commonly held that people who are competently able to engage in an activity should not be discriminated against for qualities over which they have no control (e.g., sex or skin colour), but may be penalized for anti-social choices they make. On this basis, those gays who are gay by nature (born that way), as many claim to be, ought not to be discriminated against. But what about those (e.g., some lesbians) who say they have chosen to be gay? It would seem that a marriage official who believes that same-sex marriage is a threat to society ought to be excused from officiating at weddings of the latter but not the former.

Anonymous said...