Same Sex Marriage and Counter-Discrimination

business_ethics_highlights_2If it’s not OK for a business to discriminate against people for their sexual orientation, is it OK to discriminate against a business for its views (not its behaviour, but its views) on same-sex marriage? The blog entry below is a comment on a recent news story about a lesbian couple who wanted to return custom wedding rings after they discovered the jeweller’s views on same sex marriage. >>>

LINK: Rights, Duties, Commerce, and SSM: Lords of the Ring Edition

If you believe that people have the right to display rainbow or pro-SSM [Same Sex Marriage] posters (and those would be my own view, if it matters; I’m a rainbow kind of guy), then you have to think that people have the right to display anti-SSM posters. Believing that marriage is one man, one woman is not inherently homophobic. I happen to think the anti-SSM view is incorrect, but I cannot use the force of the state, or the vile threats of brigands and fringe groups, to force others to act as if they share my beliefs…..

What do you think?

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  1. Abe Schwab

    First, I should point out that I agree that an after-the-fact refusal is different from a before-hand refusal. Moreover, custom-made products incur costs that can change the balance of obligations. It is these two points that are most important in this case. Is the author really suggesting that I have an _obligation_ to consider getting a Chik-fil-a sandwich when I’m thinking about fast food for lunch?

    Second, as so many arguments in this vein do, it treats all beliefs are the same, as thought they exist in the abstract. But beliefs have a cultural context and play particular roles in existing and historic power structures. Treating all beliefs as precisely the same without that context is to play mental gymnastics. It can be interesting, even elegant, but it shouldn’t provide meaningful guidance for public policy.

    Third, of course customers and business inhabit different roles and so have different responsibilities in the market. One sets the table of choices and the other selects among those choices. To treat them as equivalent is to be willfully blind to the realities in which we live.

    In short, I just don’t get what this is supposed to convince anyone of except: you shouldn’t return custom made products that were made to your specifications.

  2. Abe: Thanks for your comment. I agree that the details of this case matter a lot.

    I can’t put words in the author’s mouth, but I take it that his view is sort of like, “I hate what you say, but I’ll defend your right to say it… and furthermore I’ll still buy your products if they’re good products and if you treat me well as a customer.”

    Relatedly, my friend (and co-editor of BEH) has argued that a willingness to engage in trade regardless of buyer & seller’s moral and political beliefs is an essential part of the set of virtues required for a flourishing commercial society. See his paper from a few years ago, here:


  3. Abe Schwab

    I’ll look at the paper when I have a chance. I have a feeling it may be the start of a polemic, but we’ll see.

    I took the blog author’s argument to be a bit stronger and bit different–I’m _obligated_ to (consider?) buy your products if they’re good products and if you treat _all_ costumers well regardless of your beliefs about them.

    The “all” needs to be included unless we think I should frequent the misogynistic business that treats me well because I’m a man, but treats all women terribly. I’m guessing this isn’t the position, but please correct me if you think I’m misreading something here.

    The “obligation” is where it all comes apart for me. . . .

  4. I think you’re right about the “all” customers!

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