by Dr. Roy Cordato
Senior Economist, Emeritas
Robby Soave, a staff editor for the libertarian web site Reason.com has written an article, making the argument that gay activists should not be using the state to go after certain businesses—bakers, caterers, etc.—who, because of their religious beliefs regarding the proper nature of marriage, refuse to help facilitate a gay wedding. The story that is in the news at the moment relates to the owner of Memories Pizza in Indiana who, when specifically asked by a reporter if she would cater a gay wedding, said that it violated her religious beliefs and would not. Note, she has never been approached by a gay couple to cater their wedding and has never actually engaged in such a refusal.
What is particularly disturbing to me, as a long time libertarian, is that first, Soave offers no libertarian defense of Memories Pizza’s decision–no defense of free exchange as having to be voluntarily engaged in by both parties and no defense of private property. The fact is that libertarians believe that the owner of Memories Pizza has a right to refuse to participate in a gay wedding for the exact same reason we believe that gay couples have a right to have their marriages recognized by the state. We believe in freedom of association. This is not the point that comes through in Soave’s post.
But even more unfortunate is his insistence on referring to the views of those who hold certain religious beliefs about the proper nature of marriage as “reprehensible,” “unkind,” and “anti-gay.” In addition to the owner of Memories pizza, according to Soave’s reasoning he would have to include Mother Theresa and all of the nuns that make up the order that she founded, Pope Francis, and the Little Sisters of Poor in this description. Indeed the Catholic church, who gives more money to helping people with AIDS than any other non-government institution in the world would qualify for these adjectives, including “anti-gay,” because its parishes would not be willing to rent out their church halls for gay wedding receptions, as opposed to, for example, a birthday party for a gay person. The fact is that none of these people or groups, including the pizza owner, are accused of generally denying service to anyone because of their sexual orientation.
Soave seems unable to distinguish between a positive religious belief about the proper nature of marriage, which would exclude not only gay relationships but heterosexual marriages between a man and more than one woman or a woman and more than one man, and being “anti-gay,” “unkind,” or “reprehensible.” Again it is worth pointing out that there is no evidence that Christians holding these views about marriage refuse to serve gay people outside of the context of a wedding celebration.
What could be the silliest part of Soave’s post comes when he tries to argue that Christians who would refuse to help cater, take pictures of, or otherwise sell their services in a way that facilitates a gay marriage, are getting Christianity wrong. Here’s what he says:
I’m not particularly convinced that the teachings of Christ even require Christians to refuse to serve gay weddings. Didn’t Jesus engage prostitutes and tax collectors—the sinful people of his time?
Of course Christians “engage” people who they consider to be sinners. It is part of the Christian mission. And of course a great deal of Christ’s ministry involved engaging sinners, more often than not to forgive them for their sins. What Soave could not find in the Bible is Christ cooperating with or facilitating the sin. He didn’t become a “john” for the prostitute or help the tax collector go door to door in his efforts to extract revenues and property from the community. For many if not most Christians, the act of cooperating with or facilitating sinful behavior is itself sinful. But then again, given that Soave got so much else wrong in his post, it should not be surprising that this point also eluded him.