This article is a supplement to the comic strip I posted on my Facebook page because there’s no waaaaaaay you can simplify this debate into a comic strip. You can only touch the surface with a little sarcasm. I am not going to be so bold as to say I’m right with confidence enough to end the discussion. But I have made up my mind on “The Case Of The Gay Wedding Cake” (sounds like a murder mystery). It is about civil rights bumping up against civil liberties. There are grey areas to argue, I realize that after thinking about the subject for the last month. That is, in regards to the legalities and free speech. The moral argument for me is an “end of discussion”. I support an inclusive society, not one that excuses bigotry to salvage the last remnants of someone’s religion.
Full disclosure (I’m sure I’ve said it before), I listen to a LOT of podcasts because I’m usually working at a computer. And I don’t stick to right or left politics or even sane podcasts because, quite rightly, I’m afraid of being trapped in a bubble of my own biases. Ben Shapiro is a challenging figure on the right and one who I have had respect for in the past as he hasn’t been duped by Trump and as a result has taken the flack for his convictions by legions of Trump trolls.
But on his December 5th (2017) podcast his vitriol became quite repulsive. And on an issue where I had been on the fence–The Gay Wedding Cake! After an ad hominem attack on plaintiffs Charlie Craig and David Mullins calling them “douchebags” he laments they have cost the defendant Jack Phillips a 40% reduction in business. Shapiro framed the case as free speech versus “consumer rights.” I believe, considering his background as a lawyer, he should know better than to minimize the issue to “consumer rights.” It’s more than just about a cake. I will concede it is a tricky intersection of competing laws supporting specific freedoms. However, as you explore it I think it becomes painfully clear that it is about discrimination. This test case has ramifications for civil rights and The Supreme Court knows it which is why the justices may not make up their minds quickly. If you can deny a gay couple a wedding cake on artistic grounds you can do it to an interracial couple on the same grounds.
In a nutshell, if you haven’t heard, a gay couple walked into Masterpiece Cakeshop. They attempted to order a wedding cake. Once the owner found out it was for a gay wedding he refused to provide the service/product based on his religious convictions. The owner believes the Bible and the god written about in it do not approve of gays getting hitched.
I have to thank Shapiro for helping make up my mind on this matter because I was leaning at one point towards the compelled speech argument and I don’t think it’s unfair to explore that argument. Is the baker being compelled to express an opinion against his religion? The cowardice of the right though is to avoid the implications of an outcome where their free speech martyr wins out over civil rights. What I mean by that is, if civil rights laws were wiped out tomorrow in name of religious freedom, no storefront business in their right mind would claim free speech or freedom of religion in order to discriminate against black couples, interfaith couples interracial couples and so on. It would be financial suicide and a PR nightmare. So I believe conservatives feel comfortable about singling out gay people because sexual orientation does not have the same market or political value yet as race and religion (or so they think). If I’m confusing you then please run this simple thought experiment: replace the gay couple with an interracial couple and see how you feel about defending a baker refusing them service.
If conservatives like Ben Shapiro want to take the libertarian angle and be consistent in their advocacy of free speech above civil rights then do it. A Libertarian purist will claim the free market will eradicate bigotry and civil rights laws are not necessary. Take one stand or the other, but don’t cherry pick. I have yet to hear a conservative commentator on my round of podcasts (usually not true Libertarians anyways) point out the obvious. It’s not just gay couples that can be put on the “do not bake” list. Instead of adding this implication to the debate, Shapiro invoked Rosa Parks as a shining example of a good test case (her refusal to move to the back of the bus was planned). Even though, by the standard Shapiro is supporting for Jack Phillips the baker, Rosa could be refused a wedding cake by a baker who practices Christian Identity (racist doctrine). It may be unfair to say this, but if it were 1955 the same conservatives might be saying, “Why couldn’t she just take another seat? What a selfish black woman. Look how much money she cost the city?” If Jack Phillips is allowed to discriminate in his business based on his religion, why not lament the bad old days starting in 1964 when white Christian business owners had their freedom of speech and freedom of religion imposed upon by minorities and people of other faiths through civil rights laws?
After calling the plaintiffs douchebags, Shapiro tries to give an analogy which I finally concluded is not sufficiently equivalent to the scenario Craig and Mullins experienced. It doesn’t address civil rights versus civil liberties. Fact is, I concluded it was convoluted and not comparable to a wedding cake. To paraphrase his argument: What if a speechwriting service run by the two plaintiffs were asked to write a speech on the sin of homosexuality? Based on the gay wedding cake lawsuit by the plaintiffs they would be required to. Here’s where we get into Ben minutia. Ben is making up the speech writing service without any terms and conditions or specific product offerings? A free for all ghost writing service. And speechwriting is not the same as a storefront offering wedding cakes, I’m sorry. Nor does he distinguish between a celebratory event and creating what is essentially a hate speech against a class of citizens. The cake is a pretty food product offered to any couple tying the knot, it is not an endorsement of homosexuality–it is a product! The same would be true of a floral arrangement. Unless the gay couple is asking for the wording “I, Jack Phillips, renounce my strictly literalist view of the Bible and endorse this coupling of gay men under God” it is still food stuff for an event. At best, it is the couple who is putting a message of their love on the product, not the baker.
Here’s my convoluted counter scenario for Ben in order to play this game; a scenario which I think is more comparable to the issue with the gay wedding cake. A Republican speechwriting service is approached by a candidate running for local office and needs a well written speech on local tax policy. They immediately say yes, it is a service they offer and support for every inquiring client. But hours later they find out their client is a Log Cabin Republican. Oh no, he’s gay and they’re Bible believing Christians! The Republican speechwriters tell him they can no longer write the speech (deliver the product) because they feel a tax policy speech (their product) read by a gay man will mean they are endorsing the homosexual lifestyle. The gay client is discriminated against due to his sexual orientation, he publicly complains and Ben Shapiro calls him a douche. When you offer a product or service to the public and you revoke the service/product solely based on a customer’s race, religion or sexual orientation then you’ve broken the law and violated their civil rights with unequal treatment. And yes, you’ve become a douchebag.
Anyways, we don’t need these scenarios. It already happened that a customer at another bakery asked for an anti-gay wedding cake quoting the Bible. It didn’t turn out in his favor for the reason of asking the bakery to engage in discrimination instead of providing the product they offered for weddings. It doesn’t take a genius to see Jack Phillips was involved in discriminatory behavior against a class of people while his own civil liberties remained intact. I mean did he ask straight couples if they were “unequally yoked” as mentioned in 2nd Corinthians?
More Ben minutia. Shapiro argues that the incident in question was before legalized gay marriage in Colorado. On a technicality, he’s right. The cake incident was in 2012 and Colorado didn’t legalize gay marriage until 2014. They only had limited recognition of same sex couples. So what? The case isn’t about the minutia. It’s about setting a precedent. All that would happen if the court throws out the case on that technicality is another gay couple is going to go back to the same bakery (or a similar bigoted bakery) to set up another test case. This minutia is pointless. We’re arguing the bigger picture.
Additional Ben minutia. Ben says the plaintiffs are douchebags because Jack Phillips has lost 40 percent of his bakery business. Hmm? Why do you think that would happen? Is it because the free market has determined that bigotry–including against gay couples–is bad for business? Yes! The public is tired of homophobia. Did the lawsuit amp up the publicity and advertise the bigotry? Yes! Sorry, if Ben and fellow conservatives feel that is unfair. And sorry if conservatives underestimated the market (for Christ’s sake, it’s Colorado, not Alabama). Would you feel differently if there was no lawsuit and the gay couple had staged a local protest that caught national attention instead–the results coming out the same in lost business for Mr. Phillips? No, you would still bitch about it. Like I said, if conservatives want to backtrack and express their interest in wiping out civil rights laws in order for a Biblical bigot to bake cakes for straight Christians then be honest about it. Go Libertarian full throttle. But they know the public will not be on their side.
I’m sure Jack Phillips is a nice guy on a personal level, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a bigot. Bigots aren’t cartoon villains twirling their mustaches. Being a former Christian Jesus freak, yes, I was once a bigot against the LGBT community. I grew up. It’s time Christian conservatives let this one go because even if the lawsuit is overturned–and that is a possibility, but unlikely–they’ve lost the moral argument when they hold up Jack Phillips as some sort of hero for civil liberty and specifically freedom of religion. I’m big on free speech, even protecting vile speech by bigots, but I do call out their speech as vile. I don’t see Ben Shapiro doing that. He prefers to call two gay men he doesn’t know “douchebags” because they’re demanding their civil rights. Kind of a douchey thing to do?
BTW: Masterpiece Cakeshop apparently refuses to do celebratory divorce cakes…across the board. No discrimination, no controversy. The same goes for Halloween cakes. It may not just be the lawsuit that affected his business. Americans don’t like that kind of religious fanaticism as a general rule when it comes to commerce.