04 Apr 2015

The Distinction Between “Catering a Gay Wedding” and “Serving Gay People”

Religious 32 Comments

I really thought I wasn’t going to talk about this divisive issue anymore, because I realize at this point there is little to be gained. People on both sides have made up their minds.

And yet… I haven’t seen many people make this distinction. It is crucial to understanding what is going on here. Obviously if you are an agnostic then this may seem like a trivial detail, but it is crucial to understanding why the framing of this controversy is so lopsided.

There is a full-court press to frame the issue as, “Some Christian business owners want the legal right to not serve gay people.” I can understand when people at Salon take that tack, but I really lost all hope when even self-described libertarians like Penn Jillette don’t even take the time to understand the issue.

This CNN piece is classic.

Be careful to watch the actual questions posed to the people on camera, as opposed to the “summary” that the CNN guy gives after the fact. The florists in Georgia are never asked, “Would you refuse to sell flowers to someone you knew was gay?” No, the actual exchanges we see on tape always involve a hypothetical business opportunity to provide the flowers for a gay commitment ceremony (they don’t have gay marriage in Georgia). (UPDATE: In two of the interviews, we clearly hear that the question concerns a gay ceremony, while in the third we don’t hear the opening question.)

Admittedly, the woman who falls into the CNN guy’s trap was partly asking for it when she said “it’s a different kind of sin,” but strictly speaking his analogy was awful. In case you don’t click the link, he asked her if she would sell flowers to an adulterer, and she admitted she would.

But let’s think about that for a minute. Do customers actually walk into the florist–especially when the employees are smiley women with Southern drawls as in this CNN piece–and say, “Hey, I’m sleeping with my secretary, and I want to get her something nice. Let’s hope the old lady doesn’t find out, amirite?!”

Of course not. Likewise, suppose there were a national movement to change the divorce laws, so that infidelity could no longer be used in alimony or custody battles, because it reflected an outdated cultural prejudice in favor of monogamy. And then someone came into a Georgia florist shop and said, “My friends and I are having a party celebrating adultery. Can you provide the flowers for that ceremony?”

That would be closer to the hypothetical concerning gay marriage, for someone who is a Bible-believing Christian, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them didn’t want to work for such a client, in that political context.

In closing: I TOTALLY AGREE that many Christians who think homosexual behavior is a sin, for some reason artificially elevate it to a higher category. Indeed that’s what got that Georgia florist busted on the gotcha question by the CNN guy. (As I said on Facebook recently: If you’re a standard Christian, you think gay people are sinners who deserve hell. You also think straight people are sinners who deserve hell.) But this willful refusal to actually understand what is motivating these Christian business owners is annoying. If you want to accuse or mock them, fair enough, but at least accurately state their position.

32 Responses to “The Distinction Between “Catering a Gay Wedding” and “Serving Gay People””

  1. Grane Peer says:

    Of course none of these people really care about discrimination. Thousands of businesses across the USA post signs refusing service based on such heartless discrimination and no one says a word. Where is the outrage? Who will stand up on behalf of these poor souls? Who will defend the shirtless?

  2. The Pen is Mightier says:

    Of course, as Walter Williams has pointed out, Jim Crow laws were, in fact, laws. Most businesses fought them and didn’t want to enforce them. Without the silly and pointless CRA of ’64, we wouldn’t have to worry about this arbitrary distinction.

  3. khodge says:

    Bob, your initial decision was correct…those who have their minds made up aren’t interested in careful distinctions. This is the type of problem that always gets Prof Landsburg attacked: how is the question being framed?

    (Not really bad company but tough damage control for a consultant.)…

  4. Darien says:

    I love Penn to death, but honestly I believe the militance of his atheism is blinding him here. He sees the word “religious” and concludes he’s against it. To wit, I believe the sound bite he himself used to summarise his position was “nobody is being asked to have gay sex” — the implication being, clearly, that people do have a right to refuse to provide *that* service, but not these others.

    The confusion of ideas that leads to this position is staggering. Clearly people either have the right to associate with one another as we individually please or else we do not. What sane basis is there for concluding that people can refuse a demand for sex but not a demand for cake or pizza or flowers or photography?

    • Keshav Srinivasan says:

      The difference is that Penn believes that there should only be a religious exemption to a law if it would violate a person’s religion to follow the law. So Penn is saying that mandating intercourse would force people to violate Christianity, but mandating that they provide flowers for a wedding would not force anyone to violate Christianity.

      • Grane Peer says:

        What is INTERCOURSE?

        Communication; literally, a running or passing between persons or places; commerce. As applied to two persons, the word standing alone, and without a descriptive or qualifying word, does not import sexual connection. Teople v. Howard, 143 Cal. 316, 76 Pac. 1116.

        Law Dictionary: What is INTERCOURSE? definition of INTERCOURSE (Black’s Law Dictionary)

        So yes they are literally being forced into intercourse. Penn’s libertarianism takes a back seat to his fanatical atheism.

      • Darien says:

        What, pray tell, grants Penn (or any of us) the right to decide whether or not a given act is acceptable according to somebody else’s religious beliefs? That’s a stunningly unlibertarian idea. People need to be able to decide for themselves what their religious beliefs mean, or else they don’t particularly have any religious freedom.

        • Keshav Srinivasan says:

          Well, in the extreme case, that would allow anyone to choose not to obey any laws at all, on the grounds that it violates their religious beliefs. So if you’re a non-anarchist libertarian, then the choice is either to allow religious exemptions for certain laws but police the invocation of those exemptions, or else write a law that doesn’t have a religious exemption.

  5. Bharat says:

    I’m glad to see this point being made by you as well, Dr. Murphy. When I first heard of these cases, it seemed to me that the media was completely misunderstanding the Christian view. The issue at hand isn’t blanket discrimination against homosexuals, but discrimination against individuals who openly or obviously have a purpose that Christian shop-owners 1) consider immoral and 2) would be directly aiding in if they chose to sell. Even for non-Christians like myself, this should not be absurd at all. Here’s a secular example: Let’s say you own a store selling sharp knives, and a man comes into your store asking for a knife so he can go use it to murder someone. Any shop-owner deciding to “discriminate” in this case would be completely justified, even on non-Christian grounds.

    • Harold says:

      You have various defences against accusations of discrimination.

      You are allowed to discriminate on any basis except those specifically covered by discrimination law (sex, sexual orientation, race, religion). So one can discriminate against people you think are murderers, and you do not have to sell them a knife. You don’t have to cater a gay wedding as long as you are doing so for a reason other than because it is a gay wedding. As Justice Scaila said “a tax on wearing yarmulkes is a tax on jews”, so discriminating against gay weddings is discriminating against homosexuals.

      If you were asked to write words on a cake or a t-shirt, you would have a free speech defence. You do not have to print racist t-shirts or bake homophobic or offensive cakes.

      “he asked her if she would sell flowers to an adulterer, and she admitted she would.”
      This might be an interesting test – do these businesses or individuals turn down second weddings? It seems to me, from my biblically naive position, that the case aginst this (as adultery) is just as strong as the case against homosexuality. This would be a much better analogy than the one asked. As far as I am aware, you are legally entitled to turn down business for this reason.

      Back to the point – there is some sort of distinction between not serving gays and not catering gay events. Do the legal manoeverings recently in Indiana succesfully make this distinction?

  6. Josiah says:

    Well said.

  7. Bob Roddis says:

    Since the tendency on this blog is to always over complicate and intellectualize the simple obvious truth…

    The simple obvious truth which I recognized in the summer of 1972 while working at a Detroit auto plant and listening to Aqualung on my 8 track player is that liberal Democrats hate average and working people. That’s why they act like a school of piranha whenever they see someone like the people in Indiana or Cliven Bundy.

    Nothing had better come between them and their 2 minutes hate.

    BTW, the hatred of average people is also the source of the sticky prices and wages mythology.

  8. Josiah says:

    I have to admit, there is something kind of glorious about Bob Roddis’ comments. They’re like beat poetry.

    • Bob Roddis says:

      There’s a dance rhythm inherent in my comments. They are designed to induce a sidestep.

  9. Al Kour says:

    So for a “standard Christian” everybody is a sinner and deserves hell. What a nice doctrine! The religion of love, really.

    • Z says:

      Irrelevant. And no one has an obligation to love everyone or think everyone is a saint.

    • BZ says:

      Seriously? I’m sure you’ve watched enough football games to know how those are reconciled. John 3:16.

  10. Gil says:

    Actually, the issue shouldn’t be about freedom of religion than it is about a freedom of private business choice. Namely whether anyone HAS to do business with anyone else under pain of legal action. Quite frankly there’s no right to freedom of religion than there is a freedom to privacy. As Walter Block points out you don’t have a right to privacy rather to a certain degree of private property rights that can go some way into ensuring your privacy.

    On the other hand, I suppose Christians are right to suppose male homosexuality is a serious sin since it’s clearly a capital offence in the Bible. Maybe American Christians thought were doing gays a solid by not following the Bible and letting gay men walk free without harm and instead they try to use the law to trap Christians in a catch-22.

  11. Major.Freedom says:

    Because God really does care who men stick their genitals into.

    Out of the almost unfathomable universe, the grand mystery, the billions and billions of stars and trillions of cubic light years, in all that, God cares about the location of a stick of meat.

    Religious texts are definitely the word of God, not the minds of celibate priests cooped up in isolation .

    • General.Serfdom says:

      Put yourself in the Lords shoes, surely an almighty face palm is in order.

    • Daniel says:

      Jewish priests weren’t celibate. Neither were Christian priests/presbyters/elders for quite a while, even in Roman Catholicism, long after the Christian texts were established; and, outside Rome, the Orthodox and protestants aren’t celibate, etc.

      Not that that matters to you, I’m sure.

      • The Pen is Mightier says:

        Nah, internet atheists don’t worry about the accuracy of their “critiques.”

      • Major.Freedom says:

        The Pentateuch, which includes Deuteronomy, was (allegedly) written by Moses when he was old and alone in the wilderness going crazy.

        The main books of the New Testament (Matthew, Luke, etc) were written by followers of Jesus who were jealous of Jesus paying attention to Mary Magdalene.

        What I said was mainly in satire, meh

    • Tel says:

      The Bible can be difficult to correctly interpret, which opens the possibility of disagreement amongst Christians.

      However one would expect the The Missionary Church of Kopimism to be strong supporters of the Missionary Position. They have deep seated principles you know.

    • The Pen is Mightier says:

      I love ignorant incredulity masquerading as profound insights.

  12. Taboo says:

    In terms of Christianity, gay marriage is beyond just a sin. The act of homosexuality, that is just a sin. But marriage and adopting children and perverting the family is actually flaunting sin, distorting our family structure designed to reflect the trinity. All that aside, we are at the tail end of a carefully contrived cultural revolution and history has shown clearly where all this is headed. Homosexuality and the destruction of the family is well documented and cited as one of the major factors in the downfall of Rome even Plato whom the statist worships, recanted his position advocating gays. Deep down everybody knows it’s wrong and “wanting gays to get married also” has nothing to do with love, liberty, or rights. This is utter foolishness. FURTHERMORE THERE ARE SO MANY BIGGER ISSUES IN THE WORLD AND THIS IS OBVIOUSLY A DISTRACTION, DUH. At the end of the day, NO NEW NEWS, JUST OLD NEWS HAPPENING TO NEW PEOPLE.

  13. Taboo says:

    at this point, people stand for nothing, and they are now falling for anything. The average, even “educated” U.S. Citizen is too dumb to find N.J. on an unmarked map of the country (according to intercollegiate studies,) or literate enough to read the instruction on a prescription pill bottle. The entire situation has come to a head. Not just the nonsensical gay agenda the entire shit show, with the “recovery,” the 5.5% UE, the “debt doesn’t matter,” the “they hate us for or freedoms,” and the whole dialogue of utterly non thought out, repeated talking points that is the senseless fodder people gobble up daily. It ends bad, real bad, and soon… for just about everybody. And nobody will have an excuse or be able to claim “they don’t know what happened.” That is all that matters at this point.

  14. Taboo says:

    If this is where it is at, than the people who are tired of having the gay agenda forced on them ought to grow a set, get a spine and put their money where their mouth is. For sure they are the majority, and a serious boycott of all firms and activities, localities, etc. forcing the gay agenda would shut them down, real, real quick. Too bad everybody is a spineless pushover. For example, BK is now putting gay propaganda all over it’s wrappers and bags, etc. If 25 to 50 million pro-lifers, sanctity of marriage types outright refused to do any business with BK and all it’s affiliates, you think that might have an impact? Or more dramatically, vote with your feet! Spend all your money with the businesses that espouse your values/culture etc. Except, we aren’t that type of people. This is Fascism and we are surfs. People are not going to do anything that puts skin in the game. So the downward spiral continues, faster and faster. it’s the easy wrong over the hard right, the path of least resistance, the short sighted path to self destruction. Again, no new news, just old news happening to new people. Or as the Bible tells it, nothing new under the sun!

    • Mule Rider says:

      With growing awareness, I have been trying to follow a path in line with just what you suggest, refusing to do business with these businesses/organizations that embrace all manner of perversion and evil and put forth relentless propaganda in defense of their agenda.

  15. Dan says:

    It occurs to me, as an overlooked wrinkle in this new brouhaha, that it’s a pretty safe bet that the same bakers and florists and such who would opt not to provide goods for a gay marriage also would prefer not to knowingly provide goods even for a white, heterosexual couple wanting to celebrate “shacking up” without benefit of marriage, ’cause “fornication’s swell!” As difficult as it is for many to believe that in these times there continue to be folks who not only oppose gay marriage, but also oppose heterosexual couples shacking up, etc., well — there are such folks still around. Really. These folks don’t want gays and cohabitating heterosexuals to starve, or not enjoy flowers — but these folks also, out of religious conviction, do not wish to be forced to help gay couples or unmarried “living in sin” heterosexual couples celebrate their particular marital or pseudo-marital status. Even in a society which doesn’t value freedom of (non-) association or freedom of contract, it’s a pity that the so-called “elites” and progressive bullies are unable, or unwilling, to recognize and — God forbid, haha — tolerate a fairly minor exception to the application of so-called anti-discrimination laws.

    • Darien says:

      I work with a few young kids (sixteen years old), and, as kids are wont to do, they often say goofy things just for the sake of saying goofy things. A while ago, one of them said to me “you should save yourself for marriage.” To which I replied “already did.”

      This blew his mind. To this guy, the idea that anybody in this day and age actually does something like that was completely unheard-of.

  16. Innocent says:

    Okay lets review a couple thoughts here.

    If you believe that Homosexuality is a bad thing but that the people are not bad then you serve them food and be done with it.

    However if a marriage ceremony has religious purpose – as it does to most Christens – rather than simply state purpose – which is what Government is only concerned with – then someone who is a homosexual and asks you to participate in said ceremony is basically asking you to take something that you hold as sacred and make a mockery of it.

    This is in a nut shell the issue that most people have who are Christen and who have, I think, a hard time communicating. I have friends who are gay. That is their choice. But I would have a difficult time in supporting something that I would view as a mockery of a divine institution because they view it as okay.

    Don’t get me wrong I would also say no to someone who wanted to hold a bachelor party at a strip club. It is not a good or morale thing.

    I understand wanting acceptance, but acceptance at the cost of something I view as a sacred ceremony that because of deviate sexual practice ( deviate as in not the normal – only a small percentage of the populace is gay ) that according to all my knowledge is against the will of God – well it is hard to say I am happy for you in that case. Regardless I would wish them well and happiness in their life.

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