Should bakers opposed to gay marriage be forced to bake a wedding cake for gay couples? This is the discussion I got involved in on Twitter with Gideon. Unlike many debates on Twitter, this one stayed civil and didn’t descend into profanity and calling each other stupid, which was refreshing. I had to leave the debate due to it being 2:30 AM but the question kept me thinking for a while. Finally, I arrived at what I think is the position that makes the most sense to me. No doubt others will have differing opinions.
In the discussion, Gideon asked me if I thought that artists should be made to offer their service for a potential client, if what the client asks is against his/her beliefs. For instance, should an actor be able to turn down a role in such a case? Could a painter refuse to paint a painting of a gay couple if the painter objects to gay marriage?
The rationale behind the question is that an artist puts his or her creative input into the object being created, be it a performance, a painting or a cake. An object thus infused by the creative input of the artist is different from an object ready to be sold. According to Gideon, the latter may not be refused while the first may be refused.
My take on the cake
At 2:30 AM, my thinking wasn’t too clear anymore (I have to stop having debates on Twitter in the middle of the night). I had the distinct impression that there was something wrong with the question “Should bakers opposed to gay marriage be forced to bake a wedding cake for gay couples?” I just couldn’t put my finger on it at the time. My mind was leaning towards “no” but that wasn’t the whole answer as I felt it at the time.
Now that I have had some time to think upon it, during daylight hours I might add, I think I have found a position that makes the most sense to me. My position is that no, no baker should be forced to bake a cake for gay couples if they oppose gay marriage. However, I must add a caveat so that people do not get the wrong impression: the impression that I approve of or would condone bigotry.
What cleared things up for me, was actually when I asked Gideon if he thought that a racist baker could refuse to make a cake for a black person. His answer to that was very revealing to me. Gideon said “yes, he can refuse to bake a cake with an artistic feature”. This answer was the catalyst to my thought process below.
Let me be absolutely clear: I think that it is morally wrong to refuse performing a service for someone if you don’t approve of their lifestyle (or skin color, or gender). Doing so makes you a bigot.
Furthermore, all civilized countries have laws which prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc. This holds true for the United States as well, despite the current climate of intolerance under the Trump administration. Your religious beliefs or other personal beliefs do not override the law. If, for instance, I held the belief that taxation is theft, I could decide to stop paying my taxes. The moment I do so, I should be ready for the consequences of my decision.
Comparing artists with shops on the street as Gideon did, is comparing apples and oranges. A single artist or an actor is a private person, while a cake shop is not. Yes, the shop may employ one or more cake artists to decorate their cakes but they would be employees of the business. Customers entering a shop on the street rightly expect service, unless they are being disorderly or rude.
When trying to enlist the service of an actor, there is no similar expectation because there are other factors at play. If the artist is already in your service, it’s a different matter. Say an artist has signed a contract to play in 3 seasons of a television show. Halfway through the second season, his character comes out as gay. Can the artist now refuse to play the role? No, not without consequences because he is under a contract and unless the contract stipulated that said it would become void if the artists’ character came out as gay, the actor would be required to fulfill the contractual obligations.
I’ve seen the argument put forth that if Christian bakers are forced to provide wedding cakes for gay couples, then Jewish bakers would be (or should be, as some suggested) forced to bake Hitler cakes for Nazi’s. What the proponents of this argument fail to realize, is that this is a completely different argument. Refusing to bake a Hitler cake isn’t discrimination because political views or “hero” worship aren’t protected by discrimination laws.
It’s the wrong question
Now remember where I felt there was something wrong with the question “Should bakers opposed to gay marriage be forced to bake a wedding cake for gay couples?” As it turns out, what is wrong about this question is the very question itself. No baker opposed to gay marriage is forced to bake wedding cakes for gay couples. Nobody is holding a gun to their heads or threatening them to make them comply. The question that we should be asking, is this:
Should bakers opposed to gay marriage be allowed to refuse to provide their services to gay couples if their only motivating reason to do so, is their own bigotry?
Gideon would answer ‘yes’, I fear. My answer however, is a firm ‘no’. Or rather, when they choose to refuse providing their service, they should accept the consequences of that choice. Just as in my example of refusing to pay taxes. You can do this but there will be some consequences to deal with when you do.
Just like anybody else, these people will have to decide for themselves how much their bigotry is worth to them. If your particular brand of bigotry or intolerance becomes illegal or unwelcome to society as a whole, there are a number of choices open to you:
- You can try to make it legal by electing politicians who share your views
- You can go and offer your business where your bigotry is perfectly legal
- You can close up shop
- You get over your bigotry
The latter choice would, I think, be better for everyone in the long run.