Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Thoughts on discrimination

I've been thinking about the cases recently in which, in order to comply with anti-discrimination legislation, business owners are compelled to provide services which violate their conscience. (e.g. the florist who didn't want to service a gay wedding because she felt that homosexuality is a sin.)

My first thought: arguably, homosexuality is an involuntary condition, such as race or gender, not a specific behavior. Someone is homosexual if they are attracted to members of the same sex, regardless of whether or not they ever consummate a physical union with a member of the same sex. In the same way, a person can be attracted to members of another race without marrying a person of another race. I think the homosexual marriage/interracial marriage analogy is appropriate, because both have/had a great deal of social stigma attached to them, and both involve the natural culmination of an inherent and natural disposition/personhood, as opposed to any conscious and active perversion. To be clear- I see no justification, morally, scripturally, or in any other way, for prohibiting interracial marriage, though there are those who do. The very idea of prohibiting, or looking askance at, interracial marriage is ludicrous and offensive to me in the extreme, because it presupposes fundamental differences between races that I hold to be entirely false. In the case of homosexual marriage, many more people still believe that it is sin, though many people do not. (I support the right of any two unmarried, consenting adults to obtain a civil marriage at their whim, by the way.) So- to be consistent, I think we must apply the same rules to gender, race, and sexual orientation when it comes to discrimination. If it is wrong to discriminate against a person of another race, then it is wrong to discriminate against a person of another sexual orientation. (I am assuming that any pedophelic behavior is not an orientation, but a predatory, criminal perversion of the most obscene and horrific sort)

That said..... to what degree are the dictates of our conscience subject to civil law? Ought we to be enforcing an enlightened perspective where it does not exist? And another important question- does a business owner, complete with personal conscience, differ as an entity from the owned business? To that, I would say no, unless the business was in some way publically owned and traded, publicly funded, contracted to the government, etc.

Here is where I'd draw the lines of anti-discrimination legislation, if they were mine to draw:

1. No discrimination against customers is allowable based on race, gender, sexual orientation, etc in the following places:

  • Any government entity of any level or function, or business which contracts with the government at any level or function.

  • Any business which is publicly owned, traded, maintained, or funded

  • Any business which performs lifesaving services or services the lack of which may leave a customer dead, injured, maimed, deformed, or unable to care for themselves or their dependents. (Examples include hospitals, emergency clinics, homeless shelters, food pantries, grocery stores, utility companies, home health agencies, elder care facilities, etc For things like clothing and auto/mechanics/parts houses and restaurants, I would say that if it's the only one in town, it provides an essential service and may not discriminate. If it is one of several in close proximity, it may discriminate as the owner wishes for all presumably-about-a-day of its commercial life.)

The business situations above are situations in which the private business is not synonymous with its owner.... indeed, I rather like that as a litmus test. :)

So, most businesses would be under anti-discrimination law. Those that would not would be privately owned entities dispensing non-essential goods and services like flowers, candy, event rental facilities, shoes, accessories, etc. Honestly, I think the number of people discriminating against other races, genders, or sexual orientations would hopefully be small at this point, and their businesses easily boycotted.

I think we should recognize that a sole proprietorship business type, particularly, assuming no outside control or civil involvement, should be synonymous with the owner/operator. A business is not an autonomous machine- it is the sum of the people who operate it- just as the government is a group of elected or appointed people, not a faceless entity. (At least it should be!) I am not different as the owner/operator of my Piano Studio- I am the same Mary in both cases. I behave the same, and the law should treat me the same. I would apply this to corporate taxation as well, by the way- there is no such thing as a business tax. There is only a tax on the owners, operators, employees, and customers of that business.

If I were the sort of racist $%$^&%  who wanted to refuse to service people of color in my hypothetical florist shop, I could do that. If I wanted to refuse to sell auto parts to a woman, assuming I wasn't the only one in town, I could do that. I could also deal with the lack of business from the husbands of women and the friends of people of color and deal with my inevitable financial losses. On the other hand, if I were an OB I could not refuse to treat the surrogate carrying the child of a homosexual couple and I could not refuse to sell groceries to that nice interracial couple. I think we can, and should, find a balance between respecting the freedom of business owners to operate their businesses as they see fit and respecting the safety and dignity of those whose life path or person garners the disapproval of some. There are some people who would call me a heretic theologically, or a Jezebel, (thanks, feminism and egalitarianism!) or a homewrecker because I bring in an independent income. As revolting as those sentiments are, the policing of thought required to forcibly eliminate them is more revolting still.