Should Business Be Able To Refuse Service To Gays?

In the State of Washington, a florist has been sued for refusing to provide flowers for a gay wedding. In response, that state’s legislature has before it SB5927 which would allow people, businesses or religious organizations to “deny services if providing those goods or services would be contrary to the individual’s or entity owner’s sincerely held religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs, or matters of conscience.”

Not surprisingly, this has prompted outrage from gay rights activists in the state who argue that gays living in rural areas might not be able to purchase staples such as fuel or food if businesses are allowed to discriminate.

“What are rural gays supposed to do if the only gas station or grocery store for miles won’t sell them gas and food?” activist Jay Castro says he’s asking state legislators supporting the bill.

But that’s an absurd proposition, isn’t it? In the real world, how likely is any given business to refuse profitable commerce over something like objections to homosexuality?

Not very likely. Certainly it’s not the nightmare scenario opponents of this legislation make it out to be.

It raises, though, interesting questions about freedom of association.

The left, generally, is very protective of free association. It’s the basis for allowing gays to marry one another, and allowing workers to organize into unions. Adult citizens, in a free society, should be able to associate themselves with whoever they wish.

But shouldn’t the freedom of associate also come with the freedom to disassociate? We shouldn’t have laws requiring that citizens marry any more than we should have laws prohibiting marriage. We shouldn’t have laws requiring union membership any more than we should have laws preventing it.

And we shouldn’t have laws requiring commerce between two people any more than we should have laws prohibiting it.

Which isn’t to say that we have to tolerate discrimination from businesses. We could all choose to boycott businesses that won’t serve, or won’t hire, somebody because of their sexual orientation or some other personal trait. But the freedom to choose to discriminate, no matter how repugnant any one of us may find it, should be preserved if we are to live in a free society.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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