Having a moral opposition to gay marriage does not make you a bigot

It’s becoming more and more obvious to me that the goal of the media is not to report the news but instead to whip up all sorts of anger and emotion from its consumers. If the story itself doesn’t get you angry, the response by those who are angered by it sure will. I know I have a bias when I say this, but I do think that the libertarian community does a good job overall of keeping a level head through these.

This is not the case with the discussion of the story about Memories Pizza and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in Indiana.

No, libertarians are not suggesting that the state should make laws banning discrimination against gays. The general feeling is that the market can sort out this sort of issue. Freedom of association is the key here—in today’s society, bigotry is largely considered an unsavory trait and those who practice it will suffer the consequences of disassociation. In other words, being a bigot is bad for business.

The problem is that many libertarians have committed the sin that many on the left commit very frequently: they claim that anyone who disagrees with their view of homosexuality and how businesses should treat gay people is a bigot. More specifically, if a business owner declines providing their services for a gay wedding for moral or religious reasons, his reason is because he hates gays.

This is a wildly unfair characterization. There may not be a libertarian who has ever existed who has not been accused of hating the poor, blacks, roads, etc. simply because there was a difference of opinion in how those groups should be treated by society or the state. Usually, the quickness to accuse the libertarian of hatred comes from a misunderstanding of his position. So you would think that libertarians would be a bit more sympathetic to those who would rather not participate in an activity they disagree with.

Are you a bigot for declining to cater a gay wedding?

The answer to this is that it depends. Sure, there are bigots out there to varying degrees. If you were to refuse to offer your services for a gay wedding because you hate gay people, then that would make you a bigot. Furthermore, your bigotry would very likely manifest itself in other ways. If you owned a pizza shop, although it might be “illegal” to explicitly ban gays from your property, you would probably find ways to make them feel unwelcome to the point that they know not to even bother to show up.

On the other hand, distaste for gay weddings can come from moral or religious reasons. Some people believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and they find any other arrangement to be morally unsavory. This is especially true for those who get their moral codes from their religions, which means that there are a number of other moral rules they hold themselves to. Whether or not you agree with that position is a matter of personal preference, but to ignore the reasons for the position will never bring you to a mutual understanding.

The rule of thumb for Christian religions is to love the sinner but hate the sin—and I’m sure that goes for any mainstream religion since I’m not aware of any that actually teach to hate others. This does not mean that there are no “religious” people who are bigots; however, if there is a person who treats gay people with dignity and respect but does not approve of gay marriage and would not cater a gay wedding, saying that view is based on hate does not logically follow. This is cherry picking. If you asked the same person if they would agree to cater a marriage between a man and a rock, they would very likely say no. Does this mean that they hate either the man or the rock?

What about someone who does not support interracial marriages?

Inevitably, someone will ask about interracial marriages. Should a person who refuses to cater an interracial wedding be considered a bigot? That is supposed to be the checkmate question, but the comparison is not any good. Obviously if a person does not support interracial marriages, there is something other than the “marriage is between a man and a woman” is in play. The elements between the two types of marriage are very different.

A better question would be this: what about a marriage between a 30-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl? Even if the young girl wanted to get married, many people would find such an arrangement to be morally bankrupt. If invited, most people would decline attending and businesses would decline the work. No one would question their motives, they would acknowledge the obvious: people do not want to take part in things they have moral objections to.

Other moral objections to certain activities

The various kinds of marriage are not the only things people would object to morally. If a Christian business were asked to cater a bachelor party and were told that strippers would be present, is it intolerable for them to turn it down? Would there be a huge outcry if a strict Muslim-owned business refused to work an event that featured alcohol being consumed? Is it fair to accuse the Muslims of hating people who drink alcohol?

You don’t have to agree with a person’s reason for doing or not doing something, but it is nice to acknowledge their actual reasons for it. I personally like to drink alcohol on occasion, but for some people, that would constitute immoral behavior. If they do not try to coerce me into not drinking, why should their opinions make me upset or uneasy? I do not assume that they hate me; they just don’t want to be a part of certain activities.

A better example may be the use of drugs. It is the libertarian position to be in favor of legalizing drugs, but that certainly does not mean that libertarians will partake. It doesn’t even mean that any given libertarian would recommend it or think that drug use is good and may ask his friend to not invite him over when he plans to smoke pot. Many would probably not hire, for example, a heroin user as one of their employees. No libertarian would accuse the business owner of hating drug users for the refusal to hire, so what’s the difference?

Is this anger really about supporting the rights of the gay community?

Libertarians can be just as guilty as anyone of getting so wrapped up in their thoughts that they automatically assume that anything related to the state is pure evil with purely evil intentions. Since the state does do a lot of bad things, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking the worst about the state no matter what. I know I’m guilty of this sometimes, so I make sure to try to keep something of a level head when thinking and talking about these sorts of things.

But this kneejerk hate-fueled reaction is not exclusive to the state. Many people, libertarian or otherwise, have a strong dislike for Christianity or religion in general. They think that it’s silly or that it motivates people to commit evil. So when anything negative related to religion happens, they use it as opportunity to load another round of ammo. To them, saying that your rules come from an “old man in the sky” is just a convenient way to rationalize otherwise indefensible views.

I think that Robert Murphy hit it on the head with a recent Facebook post:

It’s always been obvious that many libertarians hate both the State and the Church. But the news this week has allowed them to get more specific on the ranking.

The moral outrage does not quite appear to be due to some sort of strong feelings of care toward the homosexual community. When a baker in Colorado was asked to write an anti-gay message on a cake, the general libertarian response was “No one should be compelled to associate with anyone else.” It wasn’t about religion or homosexuality; it was about freedom of association. But due to the fact that many libertarians harbor hatred for religion and, in the case of Memories Pizza, no refusal on any sales had actually been made, this new story offered some libertarians the chance for a twofold opportunity: put to use the libertarian ideas of ostracization and have an excuse to use it for their dislike of religion.

Was the backlash against Memories Pizza a good market solution?

A good, peaceful way to solve problems of bigotry is for people in a society to disassociate themselves from those who have the bigoted views. A healthy society does not need anti-discrimination laws because no one would put up with racism, sexism, etc. After the story of Memories Pizza broke, the shop owners closed their doors due to the backlash coming from the so-called society.

The market had spoken, so all is well, right? Well…

People took to Yelp to write scathing reviews of Memories Pizza and successfully lowered their rating. The problem with this is that probably none of these people ever actually stepped foot in the restaurant. So they reacted to a hyped-up non-story to push their own agenda. They had no idea if Memories Pizza ever actually treated a gay person poorly. Yelp recognized this and said that they were planning on purging the “fake” reviews from the page. If those negative reviews and boycotts were needed, they ought to have been solved locally by the people who have actually experienced the restaurant.

But even if the intended use of Yelp were not abused and the closing of Memories Pizza were a result of free market forces, it would not necessarily be true that it was a “good” outcome. The ability of a business with certain views to exist is a reflection of the community and society in which it operates. You probably cannot buy too many surfboards in Des Moines. In this example, it’s easy to see that the outcome of market interactions is value-free. Yet it is sometimes the case that free market supporters tend to make the mistake of equating the market outcome to the ethical outcome.

A painfully obvious example of this would be slavery. Back in the middle of the 19th Century, it was the market outcome that slavery existed but we all know that slavery is not an ethical institution. That is not to say that the market is incapable of correcting itself (the market would have phased slavery out), but the existence of slavery was a reflection of the views of the society at that place and time.

The existence of the state can even be argued to be the result of market forces. The vast majority of people want the state and it will continue to exist until enough people change their minds.

Without a strong ethical foundation, it is not a given that a market outcome is the “correct” one.

Conclusion

I do not mean to tell anyone that they should patronize a place like Memories Pizza. If it bothers you that a business would decline a gay wedding for whatever reason, then by all means, avoid those businesses. But to claim that the reason for your boycott is that you dislike bigots is unfair and lazy especially if those feelings are motivated by the hatred of religion. It can lead to witch hunts for anyone who does not personally approve of something even though they practice tolerance.




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