In July 2012, Jack Phillips, a Colorado bakery owner, declined to bake a wedding cake for same-sex couple Charlie Craig and David Mullins. Phillips explained to his potential customers that he would gladly make them a cake for another occasion or serve them pre-made items, but that using his talents to participate in a same-sex ceremony would violate his religious beliefs. In June, the Supreme Court agreed to weigh in on this issue, in Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which had been pending since January.
This is a tough question before the court, and it's hard to strike a delicate balance between protecting individuals from discrimination and preserving religious freedom. Ultimately, though, business owners should be allowed to operate their businesses according to their consciences, and customers can use the tools of the free market to send a message to businesses with which they disagree.
In Masterpiece Cake Shop, Phillips did not technically refuse to serve the couple, since he offered to serve them anything but a wedding cake. Phillips isn't simply bigoted against gay couples–– he's a Christian who declines to bake cakes for bachelorette parties and Halloween celebrations as well.
Though the exchange likely felt uncomfortable to Craig and Mullins, it was not unusual for Phillips, who is so religious that he regularly refuses to make cakes for occasions that are in direct conflict with his beliefs. The idea of baking a cake fit for a night of strip-club hopping is enormously uncomfortable for a religious man, and whipping up some fake-blood frosting in celebration of a pagan-esque holiday feels inappropriate.
Phillips' refusal did not prevent Craig and Mullins from obtaining a wedding cake elsewhere. Phillips' shop is located in Lakewood, Colo., a suburb of Denver, and is surrounded by competing bakeries. The Knot, a wedding planning website, lists 207 wedding cake bakeries in or near Lakewood. If Craig and Mullins felt mistreated by Phillips, they could easily take their business to a different baker.
Critics will point out that some couples are not as lucky as Craig and Mullins, as some couples only have one or two bakeries in their area. However, due to improvements in shipping technology, you can now ship a wedding cake. Mail-order bakery We Take the Cake specializes in shipping its goods nationwide—and they can even ship wedding cakes.
If they really felt like spreading the word about their experience, Craig and Mullins could use internet review sites such as Yelp, Google Reviews, Angie's List, and the Better Business Bureau, just to name a few. The Internet allows people to spread information quickly and to organize around a cause efficiently. Those who believe that Phillips harmed Craig and Mullins could spread the word and shop at his competitors' bakeries.
This tactic has been effective in the past. For example, Memories Pizza, a small pizzeria in Indiana, shut down after its owners stated that they would refuse to cater same-sex weddings. Advocates took to Yelp and social media to spread the word, and the business eventually closed its doors.
Craig and Mullins could organize a boycott using social media to punish Phillips for his beliefs and refusal to serve them. Boycotts are a vital part of the free market and serve as a conduit to express opinions.
After all, many Americans now boycott businesses that support President Trump or do business with his family. Nordstrom dropped Ivanka Trump's line from its stores after consumers refused to purchase her products, proving that boycotts organized on social media are effective. Some 200,000 users deleted the Uber app and tweeted the hashtag #deleteUber after Uber tweeted a message that seemed to be profiting off of Trump's "Muslim ban." If you believe that a business operates in an amoral fashion, voice your thoughts on social media––and vote with your wallet.
The solution is not to ask the government to step in to force businesses to operate in a certain fashion. It would be unthinkable for the government to require an African American baker to design and create a cake for a KKK party. No one would force a Muslim cake artist to make anti-Quran cupcakes for the Westboro Baptist Church.
These examples are different from the case at hand, because members of the KKK and Westboro Baptist Church espouse viewpoints that are considered outdated, but the majority of people in the United States support same-sex marriage. However, the government shouldn't get to decide which viewpoints are socially acceptable.
Instead, the court of public opinion should judge businesses. Imagine if a bakery specialized in same-sex wedding cakes, and declined to make cakes for heterosexual marriages. It would be unfair to say that this business is okay, but advocate for the shutdown of cake shops like Phillips'.
Thankfully, there is a diverse array of bakeries and businesses, so customers can find options that suit their needs. Those who live far away from businesses that they like can order nearly anything online. The free market can reward and punish businesses based on the preferences of their customers.
Many people argue that if businesses may refuse to participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony, they will be able to refuse service to LGBTQ people or racial minorities. However, any business who tries to broadly discriminate based on race, gender, or sexual orientation will fail. Public outcry can shut down businesses far faster than the government could.
Lawsuits and legislation that would require wedding-related businesses to provide wedding services to same-sex couples are not a solution to discrimination. With tools like Yelp, it's possible to make a bigger change in how a business operates more quickly than regulations ever could.
Amelia Irvine (@ameliairvine3) is a Young Voices Advocate and a student at Georgetown.
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