LGBT Wedding Cakes And The Right To Refuse Service

Oregon’s local news provider, KATU and later NBC interviewed a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. 

Klein recounts the exchange that took place on January 17th:

“My first question is what’s the wedding date.  My next question is the bride and groom’s first names.  The girl giggled a little bit and said ‘actually it’s two brides.'”

 “Aaron [Klein] apologized to the women and told them he and his wife don’t do cakes for same-sex marriages.  Klein said the women were disgusted and walked out.”

 Sweet Cakes was served with a complaint of discrimination with the Oregon Attorney General on January 28th.  As KATU reports, discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal in Oregon.  Klein, however stands by his decision, and hopes that his right to act on a religious objection through his bakery will be upheld by the religious clause in the First Amendment, business be damned.

 The puzzling thing is that Klein only refuses his confections to homosexuals when they solicit him for a wedding.  As Klein told NBC, “I have no problem with them.  I have customers that come in, almost on a weekly basis, that are homosexual.  I have no problem–they can buy my stuff, I sell stuff, I talk to them–it’s fine”

 I think what anti-discrimination laws get at is that no amount of personal information about the customer should prevent them from having an equal right to the product or service.  In which case, it would seem that Klein has made a religious distinction where no legal one exists, at least in regard to business practice.  Same-sex marriage is illegal in Oregon, so Klein’s distinction is one that Oregon lawmakers share and uphold in regard to marriage, but his business is one that Oregon would define as “a place of public accommodation” rather than a religious institution or a “bona fide club or place of accommodation which is in its nature distinctly private” so he is bound to rights altogether different from those of a church or Moose Lodge.

 Klein says, “they’re making a choice to do what their doing, I’m making a choice to not be a part of it,” trying to make a libertarian case for his choice to refuse service, but it requires little imagination to extend that logic uncomfortably far.  So far that discrimination is the basis rather than a pitfall of the market, where the provider is as or more important as the product, and so on.

Some companies are already playing this game–not on a discriminatory basis, but through corporate activism.  Chick-fil-a had record-breaking sales on their “Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day” which came shortly after (and likely due) to the CEO’s having come out as an opponent of gay-marriage, and although his and many companies for years have donated to organizations that oppose gay rights, his statement created a backlash.  The day before Appreciation Day, the company released a statement saying,  “We are a restaurant company focused on food, service and hospitality; our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”  Despite their claim, they are engaging in that debate and–to their profit or peril–are giving consumers an extra reason to or not to patronize there; some will go out of their way to eat there, and others will avoid it like the plague.  It is a curious calculation for a company to make, but many are undoubtedly doing it.

 It is perhaps less consequential than I give it credit for.  After all, JC Penney came out in favor of gay-marriage in May 2012, appointing Ellen Degeneres as a spokesperson, and suffered no marked change in market value–at least no change that couldn’t be explained away a thousand different ways.

 

In order for corporate activism to have an effect, people have to know about it in the first place and most companies, understandably so, let their money do the talking.  In a country so deeply divided, I imagine most do not have the luxury of limiting themselves to half the population.

In this case, I would argue that Gordon Gekko’s famous line, “Greed is good” actually applies, or at least it’s better than conservatives shopping at conservatives shops and liberals shopping at liberal shops.  Markets should be as blind as justice, and unleashing the power of the free market is slow business when companies divert funds to ads and advocacy groups.

 In the meantime, here are the companies that support gay marriage:

Allstate

Amazon

American Airlines

Apple

Applebee’s

Best Buy

Clorox

Coca-Cola

Costco

Delta Airlines

Ford

Gap

General Motors

Gerber Baby Products

Hilton Hotels

Home Depot

IMB

Levi’s

Marriot International

McDonald’s

Microsoft

Nationwide

Nike

Olive Garden

Pepsico

Proctor and Gamble

Red Lobster

Rite Aid

Sears

Southwest Airlines

Starbucks

State Farm

Target

United Airlines

UPS

Walgreens

Walt Disney Company

Here and here are the companies that don’t.

A-1 Self Storage Company

Autozone

Brown-Forman Corp

Cracker Barrel

Chick-Fil-A

Cinemark

Dish Network

Domino’s Pizza

Ensure.com

Exxon Mobil

Gold’s Gym

Golfland Entertainment Centers

Hobby Lobby

Manchester Grand Resorts

Meijer

OutsidePride.com

Request Foods (supplier for Campbell’s Soup)

Salvation Army

Urban Outfitters

Walmart

Many (some included in the list) are less clear in their allegiances, lobbying for one, yet promoting fair and non-discriminatory practices in-store, or vice-versa.

 

You can follow Russell’s posts on his blog 22oftheday.blogspot.com, on Twitter @NeoKubrick, and on Facebook under Russell Winfrey or 22 of the Day.

 

What say you, the people?