In the American Conservative yesterday, Rod Dreher related the following story:
So, a Canadian Christian jeweler custom-made a pair of engagement rings for a lesbian couple, Nicole White and Pam Renouf, at their request. Later, when they found out that the jeweler personally opposes same-sex marriage, they went to pieces and demanded their money back. The couple now believes the rings they ordered will have been tainted by having been fashioned by jeweler Esau Jardon’s hands, given what impure thoughts he holds in his mind.
One could be forgiven for wondering how we are all supposed to keep up. Last month, as Indiana’s rather tame religious-freedom legislation was being torched by the mob, America’s more devout dissenters were informed that the price of participation in the marketplace was the subjugation of one’s conscience to one’s Caesar. “You can’t opt out of the law,” the agitators explained. “This isn’t the Jim Crow South!” Their core message? That if we all keep quiet about our views — and if we treat commercial transactions as commercial transactions — nobody will end up getting hurt. Or, put another way: “Cater my wedding, you bigot.”
In Dreher’s story, alas, the opposite case appears to obtain. “We can’t be expected to honor our contracts with companies that disagree with us,” the outraged couple is arguing, “for that might taint our nuptials.” The new message? That we can’t all get along by keeping quiet, but instead need to positively affirm one another or face the consequences. Or, put another way: “Even if I ask you to, don’t cater my wedding, you bigot.”
Would that the agitators could settle on a strategy.
Being a dastardly free-market type, I have no objections whatsoever if White and Renouf prefer not to use a vendor whose religious convictions they abhor. Choice, not force, is the guiding star of the classical liberal’s ship: If a free person objects to a business because it has a political sign in its window or because its owners are wearing a yarmulke or because its clerk is using a Mac rather than a PC, that’s fine with me. But we ought to be clear about exactly what happened here. As CBC News confirms, White and Renouf did not walk idly past the window and immediately cross the offending jeweler off their list, and neither did they converse with him a little and discover him to be objectionable. Rather, they found him to be charming and pleasant and happy to acquiesce, and, having been suitably impressed by his offering, they happily entered into a contract with him. And then, having later uncovered what was in his heart, they refused to take “Yes” for an answer.
When the couple “found out what he really believed about same-sex marriage,” Dreher writes, they “balked, and demanded their money back — and the mob threatened the business if they didn’t yield.” Which is ultimately to say that White and Renouf sought to break their contract — not, you will note, because he was rude or because he failed to deliver on his promises, but because they made a window into his soul and they did not like what they saw — and then, when he objected, to subject him to bullying and to threats until he caved. Is that “tolerance”?
The couple found the jeweler to be pleasant and happy to acquiesce. They happily entered into a contract with him and then, after uncovering what was in his heart, refused to take “Yes” for an answer.
I rather think not. Indeed, ceteris paribus, one has to feel extraordinarily sorry for the vendor here, for by the standards that were established during the Indiana debate he did precisely the “right” thing. Carefully putting his religious reservations to one side, the man took on a pair of customers with whose decision he fundamentally disagreed, and he promised to do the best for them that he could. And still, it wasn’t good enough.
Were this a Monty Python sketch and not a horrifying power play, the tendering conversation would presumably have proceeded like this:
Customer: We are a lesbian couple who would like you to make us a wedding ring.
Business owner: Okay. I do not support gay marriage, but I will serve you as anybody else. This, I understand, is how it works.
Customer: You can’t deny me service simply because you hold different views from mine.
Business owner: Indeed. I have no intention of doing so. Society is better off when our differences remain private.
Customer: Okay, let’s do business.
Business owner: Great.
Customer: Your private views are disgusting. You can’t make me do business with you. Give me my money back or I’ll unleash the kraken.
#related#If this is to be our new standard — and time will tell — it would be useful to know what legal protection our recalcitrant firms will reasonably be able to recruit to their side. In both Canada and in the United States there already exists a pernicious imbalance in the supposedly free marketplace. If a browsing consumer doesn’t happen to like the politics or the race or the religion of a given business owner, he is quite free to decline to associate with it. Thus do some progressives like to skip Chick-Fil-A, an openly Christian business; thus do some conservatives prefer to avoid Apple, whose owner Tim Cook irritated them during the Indiana fight. By that very same law, however, it is strictly verboten for a business to discriminate against customers they themselves dislike — even if they feel that by fulfilling their legal obligations they will be violating their consciences. Are we really going to add to this already lopsided arrangement a general right to break contracts after the fact? Are we going to hand the integrity of our signed arrangements over to the whim of the mob? And if we are not, what are we to expect the government to do about those whose consciences now demand that they renege on their word?
After the pusillanimity that was shown in Indiana, I daresay: not much.
Horrified by the hatred that had been cast his way, the jeweler appealed to what he imagined were the first principles of his adopted nation. “One of the reasons my family chose to come to Canada,” he noted, “was the freedom of rights. . . . Nothing in that shop or in these posters is against the law. . . . There’s nothing there that means to discriminate or to hate anybody else. . . . For the same reason, I ask to have the same respect in return, especially when it’s in my own business.” One is almost touched by the naïveté. This isn’t about respect, friend; it’s about power.