The Trouble With Gay Marriage

I grew up opposed to gay marriage like a dutiful conservative Christian. Eventually I came to realize that while Paul had a lot to say about what God thinks about marriage; he didn’t have much to say about what Caesar should think of it. I’ve been encouraged to see many young conservatives opening up to the libertarian-esque idea that maybe government shouldn’t be involved in marriage altogether.

Many conservatives, of course, still attempt to defend their opposition to gay marriage with faux objectivity, clinging to the increasingly tenuous connection between marriage and procreation, or grasping at any study that purports to show negative outcomes for children of gay couples. To me, this looks a bit like fighting cultural battles on political turf. For example, there are studies that appear to show negative outcomes for children born out of wedlock, but while many conservatives may hope to convince people to save children (if not sex) for marriage, no one is arguing for a ban on unmarried births.

Political Concerns

There is a political aspect of gay marriage that concerns me, however, and all the more because many conservatives seem to be ignoring it altogether. It seems likely that when we lose the ban on gay marriage, instead of moving to a neutral middle, we will go all the way to the other end and also lose voluntary, conscientious objection to it. In fact, it’s already happening.

Last year, a wedding photographer from New Mexico lost a lawsuit for declining to photograph a gay wedding. You can’t sue someone if you invite them to a wedding and they don’t come because they don’t agree with the marriage, but apparently businesses don’t have the same right. As Scott Shackford says at the link, “Who wants a wedding photographer who is repulsed by their union and is forced to be there by law?” He also provides evidence that there was no shortage of pro-gay-wedding photographers in the state. (I wonder, are they allowed to decline a straight wedding?)

This is no isolated incident. Businesses have been losing lawsuits for objecting to participate in gay activities all over the United States, from a T-shirt shop in Kentucky to a Methodist church in New Jersey.

These are serious abrogations of the fundamental voluntary nature of market transactions! The very concept of forcing someone to do business with you is utterly baffling to me (although I guess Obamacare is herding us in that direction). It’s like getting mad at Taco Bell for not serving breakfast because you really, really want breakfast from Taco Bell! Why get mad at a straight wedding photographer for not doing gay weddings?

It doesn’t matter whether the refusal is due to bigotry, or religious freedom, or just lack of interest; you can’t force a business to sell to you anymore than they can force you to buy from them. If a business doesn’t want to take your money, find another one that does – that’s how markets naturally take care of discrimination!

The Difference

I confess these arguments make me slightly queasy because it sounds like a justification of the pre-civil-rights-era “restaurants refusing to serve blacks”. Apparently markets were not punishing discrimination fast enough, and we decided to urge them along, despite the resistance of many Democrats.

But there’s a fundamental difference between refusing to serve a person and refusing to offer a service. There’s a fundamental difference between refusing to sell the same general thing to one person that you just sold to another, and refusing to sell a different customized thing to a different person because you just don’t sell it. Chick Fil-A will serve chicken sandwiches to gay couples all day long, but shouldn’t they be allowed to refuse to cater a gay wedding? Why would those folks want to support Chick Fil-A, anyway?

Businesses that offer customized services inherently limit those services. Are you going to sue Zondervan Publishing if they don’t want to publish the next Fifty Shades of Grey? Are you going to sue Sparrow Records if they don’t want to sign Drake? Many businesses specifically cater to some niches and not others; markets allow those with different interests and expertise to provide better services to specific groups. If somebody with passions for accounting and non-profits wants to set up a business doing taxes for non-profits, will you sue him if he refuses to do yours? So why should you sue a church that refuses to host gay weddings?

Many gay marriage proponents may propose a truce; you give gays the freedom to marry, and we’ll give you the freedom not to involve your church or catering service. That indeed might be a preferred outcome, but based on the history so far, I’m not optimistic that reality will settle for such an equilibrium. Hopefully conservatives will start fighting for it.

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