A gay coffee shop owner in Seattle is getting viral attention for loudly ejecting a group of aggressive anti-abortion Christian activists from his business.
Members of Abolish Human Abortion had been handing out rather vivid posters outside the shop that seem to link gay acceptance to the prevalence of abortion. They then came inside Bedlam Coffee and received service—until shop owner Ben Borgman angrily threw them out, declaring their views and their posters offensive. Watch his profanity-laced tirade below:
It's very easy to watch Borgman's rant and decide that, no, his shop shouldn't have to play host to a group of people who were just outside handing out fliers that he found offensive and that he felt attacked him personally.
It's also easy to watch it and immediately think about the upcoming Supreme Court case about whether the government can force a baker to prepare wedding cakes for gay couples. And some, like the legal scholar Jonathan Turley, are doing exactly that. If a coffee shop owner doesn't want to serve a group whose positions he finds disagreeable and offensive, is that subtantially different from a baker refusing to do work for a same-sex marriage he finds offensive?
Washington State's public accommodation laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of "creed," so Borgman cannot simply boot people out of his coffee shop for having Christian religious beliefs. But over at The Stranger, a Seattle alt-weekly, Katie Herzog argues that this case isn't religious discrimination but a disagreement about political positions:
Not believing that woman should have autonomy over their own bodies is not actually a protected class in America, much like...gays. Looks like these folks have more in common than they thought.
She's saying that Borgman isn't kicking them out because they're Christians, which would violate the state's laws; he's kicking them out because he finds their extreme anti-abortion positions offensive. The fact that these positions are informed by their religious beliefs is not relevant.
What's fascinating about that argument is how it so closely tracks the response from bakers and florists who don't want to offer their services for gay weddings. They say that they're not discriminating against gay people: Gay people are more than welcome to come into their shops and buy cakes and flowers. Rather, they object to the concept of gay marriage and to the position that it should be treated similarly to heterosexual marriage, and they do not want to be forced to produce goods that suggest that they support it.
By trying to come up with a justification as to why Borgman should allowed to boot these guys from his coffee shop without running afoul of state antidiscrimination laws, Herzog is essentially making the same argument: that this isn't discrimination against people for their identities, but discrimination against certain views.
That's the sort of weird semantic contortions that come when you try to police the circumstances in which people can decline to do business with someone else. People want to preserve their own right to refuse to associate with others while limiting the others' ability to shun them. Using government authority to do this gives people an incentive to look for ways to punish people with whom you have disagreements.
But it's more responsible, ethical, and most of all mature to suggest that both the coffee shop owner and the baker should be able to decide for themselves when they'll extend their hospitality. With neither the coffee shop nor the baker does a refusal to do business with these customers cause real, recognizable harms that justify government intervention.
Photo Credit: Teerawat Winyarat / Dreamstime