By now, most people have heard news coverage about the Oregon bakery owners who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay wedding. Melissa and Aaron Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, subsequently refused to pay damages, citing their religious beliefs.
I find several things wrong with this case and others like it. I would cite that LGBT anti-discrimination laws are often compared to racial anti-discrimination laws (which I also have a problem with), but there are some differences which I believe are worth noting. My opinion is qualified as being a black American and having dealt with racial discrimination since adolescence. In full disclosure, I am also a Christian, conservative Republican.
I struggled to evaluate this case based upon my experience and not my beliefs. My experience tells me that it is a terrible thing to be subjected to the malicious intent of those who disagree with what you hold as your very existence; nobody deserves that. My experience also shows that I have hired, worked with, befriended, and cared for people with whom I fundamentally disagree because they are good/great/awesome people, and among other things, I believe in certain inalienable rights of people to think and feel what they wish… even if I simultaneously disagree with them and/or believe that they are wrong. I can disagree with someone and still respect them as a human being. I believe that this is core to Christianity; Christ died and was resurrected even for those who hated Him and He surely disagreed with their hatred.
So, there are a couple of things that strike me as unfair about this case. Originally, I asked myself whether the Kleins could simply have refused to take the commission of baking a cake for an event without citing a particular reason. That would certainly not have been a crime. They could simply have been disinterested in the opportunity and declined the business. But that begs the question of whether one has the right to voice one’s opinions publicly, without malice.
Do I have the right to tell someone that I disagree with them? More than that, do I have the right to express to someone that I disagree with their lifestyle or the fundamentals of their identity? Let me flip that around: does someone have the right to fundamentally disagree with me being a black man married to a white woman and having mixed-race children and further deny to bake a cake for me as a result of their convictions? Takes on a different air when you personalize it.
I would be hurt to encounter someone who could have a belief system that disparaged my family. Something so personal is difficult to accept when it flies in the face of who you are. Yet, I have to acknowledge anyones right to disagree with me, even if it hurts… no, ESPECIALLY when it hurts.
So, how do I defend against this? Well, first of all, I typically don’t go about telling everyone the story of my family. Not because I’m not proud of my family, but simply because not everyone needs to know. And by nature, I am a relatively private person when it comes to my family (says the guy with the blog…).
When I do share things about my family, I have to be prepared for resistance. No, its not fair; it’s just the truth. The reality is that once you divulge details about who you are, you’re entering into a social contract with the disclosing party that they have the right to disagree with you without malice.
Not baking a cake for someone is not malicious, nor does it preclude the cake-seeker from their pursuit of happiness. I have been denied taxi rides, prompt service and human acknowledgement of my existence, but I have never been damaged by those experiences (by the way, the most egregious of these racially-motivated offenses to date occurred in the Pearl District of Portland, OR.)
So, what’s my bottom line conclusion? What would I have done if I were the Kleins?
I would have baked the cake.
I would have told the couple that while I disagreed with their choices, I would be happy to bake them the best cake they had ever tasted and to wish them blessings on their special day. Not because I disagree less with LGBT choices or fundamentals, but because I believe that Christ loves people who disagree with Him and so I will too.
I will also be fair to the Kleins and say that had I been the Bowman-Cryers, I would simply have asked for a cake. When I get a birthday cake for my child, I don’t ask for a birthday cake for my half-white, mixed-race child. I simply ask for a birthday cake and leave my family out of it; I don’t believe the baker has a need to know anything about my family.
In conclusion, I think everyone would benefit from shutting up more instead of making it a point to tell everyone exactly what they believe and who they are. It’s also everyone’s right to announce to the world who they are and what they believe, but when they do that, they need to accept the fact that the world has the right to disagree with them.