A friend of mine on Facebook, whom I’ve known since I was a teenager, posted a story about a couple who was forced into bankruptcy because of a cake. Or, rather, that’s the way that the story is being spun.
The owners of “Sweet Cakes by Melissa” didn’t want to sell a wedding cake to a homosexual couple because homosexuality, especially the marriage of two homosexuals, doesn’t jive with their theology:
“In Jan. 2013, Laurel Bowman said Sweet Cakes refused to sell her and her fiancée a cake for their upcoming wedding. Bowman said Aaron Klein, the co-owner of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, said the couple’s union was an “abomination unto the lord.” Gresham, Ore. is a town east of Portland.
Bowman filed an anti-discrimination complaint with BOLI later that year, alleging that the bakery violated the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, which protects the rights of Oregonians who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
“Oregonians may not be denied service based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law provides an exemption for religious organizations and schools, but does not allow private businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation,” Burr said. Although the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa are religious, the bakery is not a religious institution under law.”
This is the kind of thing that “Religious Freedom” laws are trying to prevent without opening the door to more outrageous discrimination based on religious beliefs. It’s a tricky thing, for sure, and something that is very complicated to deal with. So what’s the right balance?
On the one hand, if you open up a public place of business, then you need to provide your service to the public… All of the public. Sure, some of your public may not jive with you, but you still have to provide the service so long as they’re not requesting something unreasonable or illegal from you. It’s not unreasonable to request a cake from a baker.
On the other hand, there are very few circumstances where you are compelled to provide a service against your will. No one can force the baker to bake the cake. I doubt that any judge would hand out such a sentence. But, if you’re going to do something like this, there will be consequences.
We don’t know if the bakery owners didn’t know that their actions would be legally construed as discriminatory. More than likely they did, because this is not some obscure concept. Deny someone a service based on something they can’t help (e.g. age, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation), and you’ll probably face some consequences. In this case, they’re being fined, and the fine is so stiff that they claim it will drive them out of business.
Of course, people who are very religious are claiming that this is all about the “gay agenda,” a scary-quotes term used to try and frighten us about homosexuality. People who are more secular are seeing this from the civil rights perspective. For example, can this bakery deny service to a muslim couple? Can they deny it if the couple were previously divorced, something that is also prohibited by the Christian religion? The answer is that, no, they cannot under the law because they’re a public place of business.
The “under the law” part is important because we don’t live in a theocracy. What The Bible states is really of no consequence (or should not be) in the decision made by the government in relief of a grievance. Only the law should guide that decision. In this case, the law is clear. Is it fair? Probably not, because it’s just a cake and the size of the penalty seems disproportionate to the transgression. The couple could have just written off this bakery and never give them their business again, and tell their friends. (It seems that one of the other reasons why the bakery is closed is because of the public backlash.) But that’s just me. I was allowed to marry my wife, no questions asked. (In 2010. Had we been getting married a few decades ago, we wouldn’t have been given a license because she’s white and I’m hispanic.)
I’d like to be able to tell my friend to get over it. Christianity is not under attack in this country by anyone, let alone the government. Politicians would like us to believe that it is to gain votes and scare people into approving some policies. But the reality is that Christianity is in crisis from within. When a pastor wants people to tithe so he can have a jet, that’s when Christianity loses. When people call themselves Christians and don’t know what Jesus was all about, that’s when Christianity loses. Not when someone asks you to bake a cake.
It’s just a cake! (slippery slope argument.)
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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