I confess that I’ve never been terribly bothered over the issue of gay wedding cakes. I do think private businesses are subject to discrimination laws and that bakeries should thus be required to serve gay couples. But the recent case in Ireland isn’t so straightforward. In this case, the bakers refused not just to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, but to make one that featured the particular slogan, “Support Gay Marriage”. They were fined for it, and in this case, I think that’s wrong. I am in agreement with Maajid Nawaz, who says that we should not be stopping bigotry by banning discriminatory expression, which only exacerbates and increases bigotry. On Facebook he says:
“Discriminating against a person by refusing to serve them for being gay, or brown, is wrong and rightly illegal. But refusing to endorse an idea that promotes equality — though also wrong — should remain legal, so that free speech can challenge it [instead of allowing the government to silence it]. No matter how silly Muslim fundamentalists can be (and silly they are) they should be allowed to refuse drawing the prophet Muhammad on a cake. So too these Christian bakers should have been left alone.”
Christian bakers must serve gay couples their cakes, but they shouldn’t have to supply specific slogans which advocate politically or offend religiously. Islamic bakers should not have to draw the prophet Muhammad. Jewish bakers should not have to write, “Hitler reigns supreme” for neo-Nazi couples. Etc.
The point made by Maajid is simple. Discrimination laws apply to people, not ideas. Business owners have to tolerate and serve those they would rather not, without being required to supply particular ideas which go against their beliefs — whether those beliefs are those we might sympathize with (in my example of the Jewish baker), or not (in my examples of the Christian and Islamic bakers). You don’t leave this kind of subjectivity in the hands of the government to decide.
And seriously, it’s the businesses who suffer more than the aggrieved customers in any case. By refusing a customer’s request, the bakery has lost a customer — and will continue to lose customers (and money) by exercising their free expression. Which is Maajid’s whole point: gay couples can protest bakeries, not by infringing on the business owner’s free expression, but with their wallet. Just go to a goddamn baker who will supply the particulars you want. If enough people do this, the business owner will suffer. That’s how you fight objectionable ideas. Not through governmental tyranny, but by your own free expression and supporting businesses who are more enlightened.