Sunday, March 2, 2014

Post No. 100: On freedom and equality, and what happens when they clash

This started off as a Facebook status. I usually try to refrain from getting too political on Facebook, and after typing a few paragraphs, I realized I had a lot more to say on this subject than I originally thought. So I figured why not post it over here on my music blog? Makes perfect sense, right?

Anyway, the whole brouhaha over the recently-vetoed SB 1062 has sparked somewhat of an internal conflict between my rational, libertarian side and my compassionate, egalitarian side. I suppose you could sum up my general philosophy -- both in politics and everyday life -- as "live and let live," so these two sides of me are rarely in conflict. But this bill is unique in the uncomfortable questions it forces us to confront. Most everyone agrees that, at the very least, SB 1062 was an unnecessary law. It was a solution in search of a problem. Even the bill's most ardent supporters grudgingly admitted that there were no cases here in Arizona of business owners being sued (or otherwise chastised or harassed) for turning away business on religious grounds. 

The case most frequently cited in support of SB 1062 was that of a New Mexico photographer being sued for refusing to shoot the commitment ceremony of a gay couple. Now this is where the libertarian side of me starts to get perturbed. As disappointing as it is that homophobia is still very much alive and well in New Mexico, Arizona and every other state in this wacky-ass country, I'm also not too keen on someone getting sued for a having a "sincerely held" religious belief and sticking to it, despite how backwards and behind-the-times said belief might seem to most of the civilized world.

We've all seen those "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone" signs in small businesses of every stripe. However, it's generally taken for granted that business owners will only invoke said "right" if a customer becomes unruly, unreasonable or otherwise interferes with the owners' ability to do business with other customers. I have worked in the restaurant industry for more years than I care to admit, and I know from first-hand experience that some customers just aren't worth the hassle. Some might be verbally abusive to the staff. Others might be serial scammers who repeatedly claim some problem with their order in hopes of getting a free meal. There are many reasons to refuse service to a customer, but should simply being homosexual be counted among them?

As loathsome as I personally find homophobia (or racism, for that matter), it's not illegal, nor should it be. It's an undisputed fact that racists and homophobes exist, and the law of averages dictates that some of them are going to own businesses. So what, if anything, should be done about it?

I guess what I'm wondering is, would it really be so bad to allow businesses the right to refuse service to anyone, for any reason? Aren't we evolved enough as a society that the free market will weed out the small number of idiots who try to start a business that openly refuses to serve gays, blacks, Muslims, Jews or whomever? And wouldn't it be more satisfying to watch them fail spectacularly on their own terms, rather than railroad them into serving people they detest (or perhaps just disapprove of, as sickeningly condescending as that sounds)? The former might actually teach them a hard lesson in the realities of the modern age. The latter just makes them a martyr.

Here's an idea. If a business owner refuses to serve a gay person, we could boycott their business. We could get on Twitter and Facebook and encourage other people to do the same. Hell, we could picket on the sidewalk, old-school style. But do we have to sue them?

Just to clarify, I'm not suggesting that literally everyone has the right to refuse service to whomever they choose, just private businesses. Cops, firefighters and emergency personnel can't just pick and choose who they decide to help. But if you're in the market for a baker, photographer or wedding officiant, wouldn't you want to know if they are fundamentally opposed to who you are as a human being? Wouldn't you rather hire someone who shares your belief in equal rights for all, especially for an event you'll remember and cherish for the rest of your life? You might even say that the bigots are doing you a favor by refusing you service. Option B, of course, is to force them to grit their teeth and half-ass their way to an unsavory payday. Is that the kind of person you want baking your wedding cake or shooting the reception?

Perhaps as a straight white male, I simply haven't felt the sting of discrimination enough in my life to even suggest how any minority should respond to such an unfortunate situation. All I can say is that any company that discriminated against gays wouldn't receive my business, and I strongly suspect that there are a lot of other straight people who feel the same way. Enough, I'd wager, to put the vast majority of discriminatory companies out of business. Hell, I refuse to eat at Chick-fil-A, and they never actually refused service to anyone. But whenever I drive by one, I think "There's the company with the jackass owner who publicly shot his mouth off about his opposition to gay marriage. Screw them. Chicken sounds good, though. Where's the nearest KFC, anyway?"

Ultimately, I'm glad that Jan Brewer vetoed SB 1062. I love Arizona, and it seriously bums me out to see this state continually portrayed as the laughingstock of the nation. It was a poorly written law that was redundant at best, and at worst, a blatant endorsement of discrimination. But I do support the underlying reasoning behind it, albeit for different reasons that the bill's sponsors. The more freedom we give businesses to operate however they see fit, the more information we have available when deciding whether or not we want to frequent those businesses. Knowledge is power. And freedom is still a beautiful thing, even if a few assclowns exercise it in ugly ways.

So what do you think? Leave me a comment below if you want to chime in on this discussion. And as always thanks for supporting independent journalism by reading this post (and hopefully a few of the 99 that preceded it).


  1. You misused the word bigot, but other than that, good article. Well done, my friend.

  2. Well written and I absolutely agree. Legalize freedom!