Politics & Policy

A Live-and-Let-Live Law

In response to a number of lawsuits in which such providers of wedding-related services as bakers and photographers have been threatened with conscription into participating in same-sex ceremonies to which they object on religious grounds, Arizona’s state legislature has adopted a law under which businesses that decline to provide such services will enjoy protection.

It is perhaps unfortunate that it has come to this, but organized homosexuality, a phenomenon that is more about progressive pieties than gay rights per se, remains on the permanent offensive in the culture wars. Live-and-let-live is a creed that the gay lobby specifically rejects: The owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado was threatened with a year in jail for declining to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. New Mexico photographer Elaine Huguenin was similarly threatened for declining to photograph a same-sex wedding. It is worth noting that neither the baker nor the photographer categorically refuses services to homosexuals; birthday cakes and portrait photography were both on the menu. The business owners specifically objected to participating in a civic/religious ceremony that violated their own consciences.

#ad#And the so-called liberals answer: “To hell with your consciences.”

In T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, the nature of totalitarianism is captured in the motto “Everything not forbidden is compulsory.” Gay marriage has made the sprint from forbidden to compulsory in record time; the day before yesterday, a homosexual marriage was a legal impossibility — and today it is a crime to sit one out.

Gay Americans, like many members of minority groups, are poorly served by their self-styled leadership. Like feminists and union bosses, the leaders of the nation’s gay organizations suffer from oppression envy, likening their situation to that of black Americans — as though having to find a gay-friendly wedding planner (pro tip: try swinging a dead cat) were the moral equivalent of having spent centuries in slavery and systematic oppression under Jim Crow. Their goal is not toleration or even equal rights but official victim-group status under law and in civil society, allowing them to use the courts and other means of official coercion to impose their own values upon those who hold different values.

Which is to say, what is regrettable here is not Arizona’s law but the machinations that have made it necessary. It seems unlikely that those religious bakers and photographers were chosen at random, or that their antagonists will stop until such diversity of opinion as exists about the subject of gay marriage has been put under legal discipline.

One of the defects of our civil-rights law is the overly broad concept of “public accommodation,” which has been expanded to include virtually every business that is open to the public. But a business is not public property; it is private property. People of good will ought to allow fairly broad leeway for how people conduct their own lives and their own business — private autonomy is, after all, a large part of the case for gay rights. If gay leaders were willing to extend to those who do not share their views the same tolerance to which they feel themselves entitled, then a modus vivendi could emerge through the healthful operations of civil society. Those who do not wish to participate in gay weddings or other events could decline to do so — and those who believe them to be bigots could take their business elsewhere. In fact, one protester of the Arizona law has precisely the right idea: Outraged by the passage of this bill, a pizza-shop operator hung a sign in his door announcing that members of the state legislature were personae non gratae in his establishment. That, and not the micromanagement of secular divines in black robes, is the way to sort out this kind of social controversy.

It is our hope that the people of Arizona will treat their gay fellow citizens with decency and respect. It also is our hope that they will be repaid in kind. Insofar as legal intervention is required in the matter, the need for legislative preemption of judicial coercion is an unhappy fact, and the Arizona legislature is right to act on it.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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