In New Mexico, United States, a right wing Christian photographer refused to offer his photographing services to a gay marriage on the grounds that he disagreed with such a marriage. The same sex couple, angry, filed a lawsuit against Elane Photography. The New Mexican Supreme Court ruled in the couple’s favor: that by refusing services, Elane Photography discriminated against homosexuals.
The case came to my attention when I read an article on The Huntington Post where the author offers a hypothetical alternative: what if the Westboro Baptist Church asked Elane Photography to photograph their protest at a funeral? Would Elane Photography be breaking the law if they said no on the grounds that “we are not entitled to use our beliefs as an excuse to discriminate against other people”? It would seem so, considering the ruling.
Let us forget the law, for a second. It appears quite clear that legally, under US law, Elane Photography would be discriminating if they refused to photograph a same sex marriage just as if they refused to photograph a protest at a funeral. But morally, does that make sense?
That is a tough question. On one hand, the government really is in this instance forcing a business to not discriminate. In other words, it is imposing its morals upon the business, and since corporations are people, who knows what other morals we can be forced to believe. We are allowed our own beliefs as long as we don’t harm anyone else. Is it harmful to decline business to someone? You are not taking away business, you simply aren’t providing it in the first place. What makes this situation so different from an all-boys school? Aren’t they discriminating against girls by not allowing them in the school? It would seem so. Another dilemma: suppose a Republican consultant firm was asked by a Democratic candidate to manage his election. Would the firm be discriminating if they refused business because of his political beliefs? It would sound so. Certainly, American Law has provisions to this, but we are speaking on moral grounds.
On the other hand, in the 1960s when segregation was made “illegal”, had there not been anti-discrimination laws, corporations could refuse black workers for no more reason then the fact they are black. What could the government do to stop this, besides enforce morals to a company that is harming no one? It would be like being put in timeout me refusing to share candy I earned for myself because I don’t like the other children there. That doesn’t sound right, especially if I was in a school building. Stealing candy is different, and I don’t quite see the difference with the corporation analogy. Then again, without anti-discrimination laws, would racism still be as bad as it was back then? I find it highly immoral for a corporation to refuse work from a certain ethnicity, and had they been able to do so, our country would be so much worse…but we have to be consistent, somehow.
So on moral grounds, perhaps we could say that Elane Photography should have the autonomous right to choose who they wish to photograph without government enforced morals. But if we set that as a precedent, we’d be in a country a hundredfold less united. Perhaps there is a middle ground for practicality: discrimination against people for their beliefs could be considered immoral, such as a Methodist hospital that suddenly chooses to refuse atheists.But alternatively, it is alright to discriminate against people for their actions. In other words, a convention center cannot refuse African American workers, but they can refuse NAACP conventions. If we chose this path, it would mean that Elane Photography could refuse to film a homosexual marriage, but not a homosexual. The latter is discriminating a person for something uncontrollable, the former is discriminating an institution you simply disagree with.