I bruise you, you bruise me We both bruise too easily
Art Garfunkel “All I Know” Written by Jimmy Webb
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the case of the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, located in Gresham, OR, or it was before it was closed down, being ordered by a bureaucrat/activist posing as a jurist to fork over $135,000 to a lesbian couple as punishment for the heinous crime of declining to design a cake for their wedding. OK, before you launch your ballistic “You don’t know what you’re talking about” missiles, let me say that I understand that the fine was not for refusing to bake the cake per se. It seems that the bakers, after having received an e-mail notifying them of the complaint against them, posted it on social media. And they didn’t bother to redact the names of the complainants. Malicious? Maybe. Dumb? Definitely. I can certainly understand that the lesbians could have been under a lot of stress if they received threats and hate mail as a result of the publicity. But hey, they started it. So I’ll began my rant with
Simple Fact of Life #1: If you go looking for trouble, you’re probably going to find it.
That goes for both sides here. But I have to wonder, what was the big deal about getting a cake from that particular bakery? I’m sure that they made fine cakes, but I’m equally sure that there are plenty of places in the Portland metro area that make fine cakes, and would be more than willing to design, bake. and deliver one at the agreed on place and time, for about the same price. So what was the couple really looking for? Did they want to make a statement, take a stand? Or did they know some lawyer who saw the opportunity for an easy payday? You can read my thoughts on that subject here. While everyone agrees that they have the right to get whatever kind of cake they want, that doesn’t change
Simple Fact of Life #2: The exercise of someone’s rights doesn’t justify the violation of another person’s rights.
A little common courtesy and a few phone calls would have avoided this entire issue. There’s been enough talk about gay rights vs. religious rights lately, that a lesbian couple planning a wedding would have to know that there are going to be some people who would be uncomfortable participating in the ceremony. So why try to force them to? Just find someone that wants your business. And seriously, is a cake that you compelled someone to make against their will a cake that you would want to serve to your wedding guests? If you were a guest at that wedding, and knew about the circumstances of the cake, is it possible that you just might need to leave the room about the time that the cake was being served? Of course, you couldn’t simply decline to eat the cake. That would be some kind of bigoted hate crime. And we know that this couple has a really seedy lawyer.
The crux of this case stems from an Oregon law that says that it is illegal to deny access to a public accommodation due to sexual orientation. But what constitutes a “public accommodation”? It would be one thing if the bakery had refused the couple entrance to the shop during normal business hours, or declined to sell them items off the shelf. But that’s not what happened here. In fact, that shop had done that sort of business with the same couple before, with no qualms or complaints. That’s not what happened here. The lesbian couple asked the bakery owners to enter into a contract to use their skills to produce a specific type of item. In effect, they wanted to commission a work of art. Religious arguments aside, how can any artist be accused of denying service for declining to produce a work of art that he finds objectionable? Even if the artist had done similar work before? What if a rabbi who moonlighted as a ghostwriter/editor was approached by a Nazi and asked to do a book extolling the virtues of Adolph Hitler? Would his refusal to enter into that contract be considered a denial of access to a public accommodation? What if the Nazi was gay and the rabbi was straight? Would everyone be calling their lawyer? Rights of contract go both ways. Article I, section 10 of the Constitution says, among other things, that no state shall make a law impairing the obligation of contracts. Now I ain’t no constitutional scholar, but it would seem to me that any law forcing someone to enter into a contract that they could not in good conscience fulfill, would be an impairment. And let’s not forget the 13th amendment, which outlaws involuntary servitude. The right to make a contract is the right to decline a contract.
So, if someone decides that he doesn’t want to make a contract, does he need to have a valid reason for that decision? I would say no, you can decline a contract for any reason or for no reason. Basic human rights. But if you disagree with my definition of “rights,” then let’s examine what would constitute a valid reason. Does fear qualify as a “valid reason.” To illustrate that point, I’ll refer to what I said about a similar case, which I discussed elsewhere.
Consider a photographer who is approached by a couple (gay or straight, doesn’t matter) that wishes to contract for services at their wedding. The photographer asks about the date, checks his schedule, and finds that he is available. So he asks about the time and place, and is told this:
“The ceremony is at noon, and we’re all going to meet at 9:00 AM at the airport. The three of us, along with the preacher and the two witnesses, will be outfitted with parachutes, and around eleven we’ll take off. At noon we’ll all jump out of the plane, and a very short ceremony, which you will photograph, will take place during free-fall. Then we can open our chutes, and float down to a glorious reception, featuring a cake that we didn’t have to force anyone to make for us.”
What’s going through the photographer’s mind? Would the fact that he is scared s**tless be considered a valid reason for declining the contract? There might be those who would say that his fear is unreasonable. After all, George H.W. Bush skydived as an octogenarian. So what’s the big deal? I tend to think that most of us would agree that, reasonable or not, the photographer has the right to have that fear. And a valid reason, beyond his basic rights, to decline to enter into the service contract.
Which brings us to the subject of religious freedom. What if someone believes that to participate, in any way, in a same-sex wedding is sinful. Does a person have a right to fear for his soul? Now I, as an unbelieving heathen, would probably say that his fear is unreasonable. But that’s not my call. I’m not the one to say what is a reasonable fear for someone else. And I will support the right of anyone to have, and act on, whatever fears they may possess. As long as there is a fearless photographer, baker, florist, or whatever available, nobody’s rights need be violated.
The freedom to require someone to accept a contract that he would not otherwise take is the freedom to force that person into involuntary servitude. And that’s not freedom. Equal rights means equal rights for all. Simple Facts of Life.