The US Supreme Court has just ruled, on a majority ruling, that a web designer in the US State of Colorado can decline to accept commissions for wedding sites from gay couples. This echoes a similar case in Northern Ireland a few years ago when there was a legal battle between a gay man and a baker. The baker had declined to produce a cake with an inscription supporting gay marriage (which at that time was not legal in Northern Ireland). This case went all the way to the UK Supreme Court which ruled in favour of the baker.
The issue divides progressive-liberals who are supportive of gay rights and people who may be conservatives, religious believers or, perhaps simply laissez-faire liberals. The US Supreme court was split. The majority view seems to have seen the case in the framework of free speech. They believe that it is wrong to force someone to say (or write) something which they don’t believe in. The dissenting view on the US Supreme Court seems to have seen the case in terms of the “historical march of gay and minority rights”. According to the New York Times report above, one of the dissenting judges compared the case to a civil rights era case when a court ruled that a hotel could not refuse service to black people.
Those who want to force bakers, web designers, etc. to write or say things which contradict their personal religious beliefs are engaged in something which we might call “single-truth totalitarianism”. The theoretical point is that praxis and theory are inseparable. If a baker ices onto a cake “Legalise gay marriage” that is praxis. But as they do this, they overwrite their own belief system. Only cynical people without values will be happy to write one thing and believe another. There is a direct connection between what you say or write and what you think. So; in demanding that bakers, web designers etc. sing their messages they are demanding that bakers, web designers etc. believe these messages. This is what is so insidious. (I think that this is exactly what gay lobbyists and doing, and they know this. Indeed it is a theme of the whole movement to enforce on society their belief system that gay and heterosexual alternatives are equally valid choices in all respects). The US and UK Supreme Courts have ruled, in effect, that anti-discrimination laws control behaviour and that people should still be allowed to have and hold their private beliefs.
The dissenting judge in the US case, Justice Sotomayor, appears to have misunderstood the case. I find it amazing that this is hard to understand for some people, not least senior judges. (The UK case was ruled in favour of the complainant at the Court of Appeal before it was appealed to the UK’s Supreme Court). I understand that there is a campaign afoot to change not just the behaviour of society but the ideology of society, and so I understand the gay rights campaigners. But, intellectually, it is not hard to differentiate between discrimination (not accepting bookings from black customers) and protecting people from being forced to say things they don’t believe in (e.g. supporting gay marriage when they don’t). In the latter case no one is being discriminated against. The baker, for example, might decline the order for a gay marriage cake from a customer but the very next moment happily accept an order for a birthday cake from him. Or, again, the baker would, presumably, refuse to bake a cake with a gay rights message for a non-gay customer. The problem relates to the message not the person. This is not a matter of “balancing rights”; the right to be protected against discrimination and the “right” not to be forced to express a view you don’t agree with do not clash. The US Vice-President also misunderstands the case: “On the last day of Pride Month, the Supreme Court has paved the way for businesses across our nation to discriminate in the name of “free expression”—against the LGBTQI+ community, racial and religious minorities, the disability community, and women”. These people are collapsing into one the distinction between not serving a customer because of who they are and not expressing on behalf of that customer an opinion you don’t agree with. In many cases one imagines that it is simply political expedient to do this, as in Kamala Harris’s claim that this particular ruling somehow discriminates against racial minorities. (If Trump had said something similar the Guardian would have written, “Trump falsely claimed that…”).
The citation of the Civil Rights case in this matter indicates to me that the Justice has something of a racist outlook. If something fundamental and to do with race about a person is put on the same level as the right to express a lifestyle opinion that is a form of racism. You are not really seeing the black in black.
The image that comes to my mind when I look at what these campaigners are trying to do is that of a prison cell. The KGB operatives have someone tied to a chair. They are banging his bloodied fingers with a hammer, forcing him to sign some statement which he knows is not true. *
There is something very illiberal about this campaign to force all businesses to sing songs they don’t believe in.
As an addendum I want to go back to Kamala Harris’ remarks: “LGBTQI+ community, racial and religious minorities, the disability community, and women”. This is an interesting constituency to pitch for. On the one hand if you include all those groups together you have a clear majority (everyone in the US apart from heterosexual white males) and, at the same time, you can, as she does, represent these groups as oppressed. The cause is the cause of women, LGBTQI+ community + etc. people. I agree with this assessment by the US economist Jeffrey Sachs:
In a perverse way, the elites of both political parties have tended to favour distinctive brands of identity politics over class politics to divert attention from the massive inequalities of income and wealth in American society.1
*- For 100% clarity. By “knows” I mean a subjective belief. It doesn’t matter whether it is absolutely true or not. The issue is he believes it not to be true and is being forced to say otherwise.
- Sachs, Jeffrey D.. A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism. Columbia University Press. Kindle Edition. 2018