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May 14, 2004

That Could Never Happen Here...

Here it comes:

SEATTLE -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington today announced an agreement settling a discrimination complaint filed by a gay man against a local business that refused to print invitations to his wedding with his same-sex partner. Under the agreement, the business owner has apologized for her actions and agreed to abide by Seattle’s anti-discrimination law in the future.

"Our nation's commitment to ending discrimination requires businesses to serve all customers equally," said ACLU of Washington staff attorney Aaron Caplan, who represented the gay man in the case. "Business owners are entitled to their private opinions about same-sex marriage, but discriminatory business practices are not permitted." ...

The business owner’s refusal violated Seattle’s Open Housing Public Accommodations Ordinance, which protects an individual’s right to purchase products and services without regard to sexual orientation. With legal representation by the ACLU, Butts filed a complaint with Seattle’s Office for Civil Rights, the agency that enforces the non-discrimination law.

Under the settlement announced today, the business owner acknowledged that all persons should be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of sexual orientation, and she apologized that her actions offended and hurt Butts. She agreed not to violate Seattle’s anti-discrimination law in the future. Butts and Carter were married in October 2003.

Jeff Miller points out that there's quite a bit of difference between housing and card printing. The more fundamental line that's been crossed, however — even accepting as legitimate the argument that business owners don't have a Constitutionally guaranteed right to associate and transact with whomever they wish — is that the discrimination wasn't directed at the customer, but at the project. The business owner didn't refuse to print birthday invitations or some such on the basis of the orientation of the buyer.

This is a very common conflation among identity-activists of all sorts, but particularly among homosexuals. In fact, it constitutes the entire civil rights argument for same-sex marriage, and that's what's so shocking about the way the SSM debate has been phrased.

Similarly, it's the most shocking part of the invitation lawsuit. Of course, the case was settled out of court, but such claims will surely find their way into courthouses in the very near future. And when they do, the basic question that they will ask is whether private businesses and organizations have a right not to endorse the activities and events of homosexuals. Frankly, I'm nervous about the answer. The requirements that the settlement imposed on the business owner smack of a condescending punishment of a grade-school child — entirely fitting, considering that the consequence of the way of thinking that justified the suit is that even business owners are little more than employees of the state.

Where are all of the sincere SSM activists — where's Andrew Sullivan — condemning this clear threat to civil liberties? One doesn't have to oppose same-sex marriage to agree that this sort of litigation ought to be quashed before the wave arrives.

That could be Monday.

(via El Camino Real)

ADDENDUM:
Apart from questions of rights (and all that stuff), think of what a political weapon this precedent will be if it becomes law. Imagine that the business owner had been a congresswoman who supported the Federal Marriage Amendment. She would be in the position of heading a company that has to print invitations to the very events that she seeks to make illegitimate! Imagine the spurious mockery that would flood the opinion and commentary worlds.

Posted by Justin Katz at May 14, 2004 4:51 PM
Marriage & Family
Comments

The most disturbing bit from where I'm sitting is the ritual of self-denuciation, the mandated public recanting of one's views. Just why this sort of thing could never, of course, be extended to clergy and other conservative undesirables has never quite been made plain to me. Perhaps because the 20th century left never saw a slippery slope it wouldn't scoff at, even as it gleefully and triumphantly set about sledding down its surface.

Posted by: Sage at May 14, 2004 7:07 PM

I liked your distinction that this discrimination wasn't aimed at the customer but at the project.

Jeff of El Camino Real had his own run in back in October. He is a printer and refused to print business cards for someone specializing in the gay and lesbian community. He got some angry phone calls from the gay community but I don't think it ever went to court.

Posted by: Jeff Miller at May 14, 2004 8:29 PM

Just as the war spirit driving our fight against Islamo Fascism is going to die out unless there is another WTC level attack against us, the resistence against the not so gradual erosion of the milenia old social architecture that has assured our continued future will die out too without some catastrophic illustration of the mid and long term consequences of no longer having a conventional, child-bearing marriage ideal in our lives. Somehow I feel that those very necessary catastrophies are not far off.

Posted by: Ronald Proby at May 15, 2004 8:28 PM

I am no fan of coercive "non-dsicrimination" laws and as a supporter of gay marriage I wish conservative predictions about these kinds of consequences won't come true. You are wrong if you oppose gay marriage - and if you do something as trivially judgmental as refusing to print a business card - but I am quite happy for us to agree to diagree (and to take my card printing business elsewhere).

However, I would like to explore this distinction between the "project" and the "person" - or rather, the nature of the project and the identity of the person. I know racial analogies are only so popular in gay rights discussions, but if you'll permit me a little leeway:

Consider if a black man came to a printer and asked for invitations to a birthday party and the printer refused on the grounds that he couldn't support black birthday parties.

Or consider an interracial couple seeking wedding announcements from a printer who doesn't believe miscegeny is moral.

And a non-racially charged option: Consider a militantly anti-christian printer who refused to print Christian wedding invitations but was happy to print wedding invitations for any other religion.

I support the right of the printer to refuse service in all these circumtances, mind you - whether his refusal is based on racist, moral, or any other sentiments is beside the point as far as I'm concerned.

What I hope my examples highlight is how difficult it is to separate the person and the project in the events in question. Perhaps one could claim the Seattle printer would have refused to print wedding invitations even if the two men getting married were actually straight - that is, it's the same sex marriage (not the homosexual orientation) that's the sticking point. But at least in the case of the antimiscegnation printer I suggested, it's hard to argue about the nature of the project without involving the identity of the participants.

I can, of course, see the echo of "hate the sin; love the sinner" here - but isn't it a little hard to swallow that the Seattle printer's objections didn't involve just a little bit of animus directed at the gay indentity of man requesting his service? Wouldn't you think a printer who refused to print Christian wedding invitations had something against Christians? How compelled would you be by the "love and event-organizer; hate the event" argument in such a circumstance?

Posted by: Kipp at May 18, 2004 2:18 PM

Kipp ignores the obvious problem: Whereas there is nothing inherently immoral or perverse about being white or black or brown, or about marrying someone of another race, homosexual acts are objectively and gravely sinful. It's as simple as that. For the government to *mandate* cooperation with gravely sinful acts is a travesty.

Posted by: Jeff Culbreath at May 18, 2004 2:37 PM

Jeff C has apparently never met or read the opinions of those who believe miscegeny is "objectively and gravely" immoral. To people holding such beliefs, it is a travesty that interracial marriages are allowed to occur. I, for one, would pay to see the argument between Jeff C and a anti-miscgenationist in which their opposing "objective" concepts were discussed. How do you convince someone that his "objective" views are incorrect or even immoral?

And who said that a gay wedding ceremony involves any objectively sinful homosexual acts? In fact, unless the media has been editing scenes of fellatio and sodomy from their coverage, no objectively sinful homosexual acts seem to have ocurred at the Massachusettes or any other gay weddings (aside from the final kiss, perhaps). I could agree that homosexual acts are sinful but feel that homosexual marriage is appropriate as long as the couple don't engage in gay sexual activity. A celibate, but married, gay couple raising adopted children seems to avoid the prohibition on objectively sinful homosexual acts.(This is a rather outlandish scenario, of course, but only because we expect that married couples, and more generally adults in committed relationships, will have sex.)

Either way, Jeff C neglected to address the anti-Christian printer question that had nothing to do with objectively sinful homosexual acts: "Wouldn't you think a printer who refused to print Christian wedding invitations had something against Christians? How compelled would you be by the "love and event-organizer; hate the event" argument in such a circumstance?"

I'm still waiting for that answer...

Posted by: Kipp at May 18, 2004 4:25 PM

Kipp, the point is not whether this or that person thinks this or that activity is immoral. The opinions of crackpot anti-miscegationists count for absolutely nothing. The point is that REALITY EXISTS, and that some things are OBJECTIVELY wrong. Miscegenation is not a sin. Homosexuality, when acted upon, is a sin. That is simply the revealed truth.

If you don't believe that reality exists, then the world is nothing but a morass of conflicting opinions and everything becomes a question of power and rights. But if reality does exist, and if the moral law is real and knowable, then personal decisions and public policy can be made on that basis.

To answer your question, as matter of political prudence (as opposed to rights), I think that an anti-Christian printer should be free to refuse to print Christian wedding invitations, and I would oppose any law that compelled him to do otherwise. However, I would favor laws that restrict the printing and dissemination of anti-Christian literature.

Posted by: Jeff Culbreath at May 18, 2004 5:58 PM

Reality does indeed exist, Jeff - and I am happy we agree on that subject. I would wager an anti-misceganationist might agree with us as well - only his version of the "objective truth" would differ slightly from yours. But I would imagine you wouldn't get along too well with an antimiscegenationist for lack of mutual exasperation: Neither of you agrees with the objective truth of the other (interesting notion of objective truth there, eh) yet you both would want to use God's revealed truth as your justification.

So what frustrates you more, Jeff: That so many people believe there is no such thing as objective truth or that so many people aren't interested in your privelegded description of it?

Posted by: Kipp at May 18, 2004 7:02 PM

"Reality does indeed exist, Jeff - and I am happy we agree on that subject."

That is certainly a good beginning.

"But I would imagine you wouldn't get along too well with an antimiscegenationist ..."

You would imagine right. Not the least because I happen to be a miscegenationist myself.

"Neither of you agrees with the objective truth of the other (interesting notion of objective truth there, eh) ..."

Quite so. The nice thing about objective truth is that it stays true whether or not people happen to agree with it.

"... yet you both would want to use God's revealed truth as your justification."

Yet we both can't be right, now can we? God's revealed truth is One and does not contradict itself. The miscegenationist is mistaken, not because he disagrees with me, but because he disagrees with the Holy Catholic Church, the final arbiter of moral truth.

Posted by: Jeff Culbreath at May 18, 2004 7:47 PM

"The miscegenationist is mistaken, not because he disagrees with me, but because he disagrees with the Holy Catholic Church, the final arbiter of moral truth."

That must be an effective point in attempting to persuade non-Catholics of your views. And judging from the increasing relevance of the HCC to moral and political life for the past millenia, I see it has been working just as well for the church as a whole. With such compelling and accessible argumentation on HCC's side, one wonders how the Dalai Lama (for instance) finds the motivation to get up in the morning. Final Moral Arbitration and Child Sexual Abuse Coverups: Say, that's quite an institution you have there...

Posted by: Kipp at May 18, 2004 8:27 PM

Of course I meant to write "the anti-miscegenationist is mistaken". If you don't find Catholic teaching to be convincing, that's fine. I'm glad you seem to have looked into it, though. If you ever go into printing, be assured that the Catholic Church respects the integrity of your free will and protects your right not to print papal encyclicals you don't believe in.

Posted by: Jeff Culbreath at May 18, 2004 10:11 PM

Let me jump in before the vitriol mounts further. Slams against my Church are particularly likely to lose my inclination toward mutually respectful argument.

Kipp,

This has been a problem with the argument about homosexuality from the very beginning: for homosexuals, the difference between "who you are" and "what you do" is less clear than with race. We can argue the fuzzy stuff all day, but this is more or less true. There is nothing intrinsic to birthday parties that separates according to race (or sexuality, for that matter); perhaps a DJ will refuse to do "rap parties" or something, but clearly that's distinct from the racial element.

Religion is a bit more apt an analogy, in this case, and I don't even think I'd have a problem with a Muslim card designer, for example, declining to take on a project for a bar mitzvah or a Christian wedding ceremony. Much of it would depend, of course, on the way in which the rejection is handled, which indicates the burden of standing up for principle. It also suggests that our cultural etiquette about respecting others' justified prejudices has collapsed. (Even the fact that "justified prejudices" has an odd ring is proof of that.) If we're talking generic celebrations (e.g., a birthday), then the picture changes, as I've already implied.

As a matter of fact, I have no difficulty believing that the printer's action needn't have involved animus toward a "gay identity," inasmuch as I've no problem interacting with homosexual friends, acquaintances, and business associates in their capacities as friends, acquaintances, and business associates. I wouldn't, however, encourage them in their lifestyles, and I would hope they'd understand, just as I would if they didn't support me in my advocacy for the FMA.

Jeff is correct to suggest that the distinction between miscegenation and SSM isn't difficult to make — for him, and for many of his fellow citizens — and it is our duty as citizens to vote and advocate according to our consciences, however formed. Now, I also would support a printer's right to run a racist business, but I could argue against him without the least bit of concern that I'm being a hypocrite.

As to the dispute between you two, I think Jeff is suggesting that he would argue with the anti-miscegenationist in much the same way we argue with anybody who's got a different view of objective truth. Put in more-practical terms, he could leverage an area of likely agreement (on SSM), pointing out what makes SSM different from racially mixed marriages and what makes homosexuality different from race. It doesn't seem an insurmountable disagreement, to me.

Posted by: Justin Katz at May 18, 2004 11:43 PM

I appreciate your admission that homosexuality is case in which the who you are/what you do distinction is problemmatic. It is a pity then that you simply continue your argument as if it wasn't. With your vocal opinions concerning such things, I doubt a homosexual friend would ask you to his or her wedding: But would you go?

As far as Jeff's "arguments" perhaps you are giving them a benfit of the doubt arising from more experience with his character. His side of the debate was not an argument so much as a quick reduction to simple declaration: The moral authority of the HCC. I take it you wouldn't find fault with that tactic - but it isn't an argument. And if our anti-miscengationist friend wasn't Catholic either (or even Christian) I'm not sure where the argument could go.

I am also quite intrigued by what appears to be both of your absolute faith in the moral accuracy of the HCC. Is there anything about which you disagree with His Holiness or his predecessors? Are there any questions about which your own conscience demands different conclusions than are found in church doctrine? It would be enlightening to this speck of dust, at least, to hear your answer(s) to that question...

Posted by: Kipp at May 19, 2004 1:51 AM

Kipp writes:

I appreciate your admission that homosexuality is case in which the who you are/what you do distinction is problemmatic. It is a pity then that you simply continue your argument as if it wasn't. With your vocal opinions concerning such things, I doubt a homosexual friend would ask you to his or her wedding: But would you go?

But the "problem" is not entirely one for the public to resolve by changing its principles. Discrimination against behavior is rightly more acceptable than discrimination against superficial qualities. The behavior that makes one different is not thereby made legitimate.

I don't imagine I'll be getting many SSM invitations, and I wouldn't attend if I did. However, that needn't carry the burden of mutual scorn that you imply. It would make for difficulties in the relationship, no doubt, and principle isn't always easy, and mutual respect has to be mutual.

The moral authority of the HCC. I take it you wouldn't find fault with that tactic - but it isn't an argument. And if our anti-miscengationist friend wasn't Catholic either (or even Christian) I'm not sure where the argument could go.

You're wrong; it is an argument. It isn't one that you accept, and I knew it wouldn't be, but that's nothing more than an indication of distance. Something similar would exist between the anti-miscegenationist and the Catholic. Dialogue isn't always possible on agreed terms. That doesn't mean, however, that the impossibility of agreement cancels out competing truths.

Is there anything about which you disagree with His Holiness or his predecessors? Are there any questions about which your own conscience demands different conclusions than are found in church doctrine? It would be enlightening to this speck of dust, at least, to hear your answer(s) to that question...

Sure. The war in Iraq was an obvious one. Apart from that, I can't say I'm inclined to open areas of my personal faith that I'm currently working to resolve, considering your apparent hostility to the project.

Posted by: Justin Katz at May 21, 2004 11:30 PM