I’ve written before that I don’t think the law should compel people to provide services for same-sex weddings. I’ve recently become even more convinced of that view, because of a very obnoxious stunt by a homophobic activist in Denver who demanded that a bakery decorate his cake with the words “God hates gays.” I felt, not only intellectually but intuitively, that it would be wrong to compel the baker to write that message. That’s not a surprise, because I disagree with the statement on every level (I don’t believe in God, but even if I did I wouldn’t believe in one who indulged such petty hatreds.) But it’s not entirely a matter of disagreeing with the homophobe’s flawed theology. I felt a very visceral reaction at the idea of making someone deliver a message that conflicted with her own beliefs. I feel the same queasiness about compelling someone to provide symbolic support for an event that contradicts her beliefs.
For purposes of this argument, it’s not important to me whether those beliefs are religious in nature. I say this because I don’t want to get into another one of those debates where a bunch of secular liberals sit around and try to declare what the correct theological view of homosexuality is. People are entitled to their own philosophical and metaphysical views, whether they are based on ancient texts or purely secular reasoning. Being able to ponder and decide on such questions for oneself — even if your answers are wrongheaded or repugnant — is part of what it means to be a human being. It’s what the Supreme Court was talking about in the 1993 opinion that declined to overturn Roe v. Wade:
At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.
To say that a wedding does not implicate these concerns is to deny what a wedding is. Whether explicitly religious or not, a wedding is a deeply meaningful, symbolic ritual that literally creates something new. It is about two people joining themselves in love, and it has elements of sanctity and transcendence whether it’s performed in a cathedral or a chapel in Vegas. No one — whether it’s the minister, the organ player, the florist or the baker — should be required to take part in such a ritual if it conflicts with their beliefs about the deeper meaning of marriage.
In conversations about this, several people have taken the position that being a florist or a baker is not “expressive” and therefore does not implicate these concerns. I disagree. Freedom of expression is not limited to words. We protect purely symbolic speech, from wearing black armbands to burning flags, and we recognize that people have a right to free association, to choose for themselves what beliefs they will publicly support or oppose.
It’s important to recognize that these concerns are raised because of the nature of weddings as symbolic events. Most commercial transactions are not so fraught with meaning, and I don’t think homophobes have any general right to refuse service to gay people, any more than gay people should have a general right to refuse service to Mormons. But I would defend the right of a gay musician to refuse to perform in a Mormon church, and I accept the right of a homophobe to refuse to work at a same-sex wedding.