It is a law of hard science that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
It is a law of soft science (like social science) that every action has a stronger reaction. Put differently; you push me, I push you back harder. Furthermore, unlike in hard science, it can take some time for the reaction to manifest in any meaningful way.
What happened – and is happening – in Indiana, USA, is a good example of action-(stronger)reaction.
The situation as I see it is like this. A Christian bakery, citing religious beliefs, declined to produce a wedding cake for a gay couple. The couple sued; the Christian business was eventually ruined. In response, Indiana brought in new legislation designed to make it explicitly legal, in future, to deny service to anyone on religious grounds. Unsurprisingly, this has been met with a storm of protest and rightly so.
Why did this happen?
When I first heard about this, my sympathies were largely with the gay couple. I know what it’s like to face discrimination and it must have hurt, badly, to be told they couldn’t have a cake. At this point, they were morally in the right; they could have gone to another bakery (I’m pretty sure this bakery wasn’t the only one in town), ordered a cake and posted bad reviews of the first bakery online. I admit I have no idea just how large the gay community is in Indiana, but as most decent people – at this point – would have agreed with the couple, the business would probably have taken a hit for it. In short, the free market would have sorted it out.
Instead, they sued and crushed the business.
There’s something you might as well call a ‘law of proportionate response.’ (Put differently, the punishment must fit the crime.) If you are being picked on by a bully and you shoot him, chances are that you will be viewed as the monster, not him. A gross overreaction twists the situation completely. By bringing in legal hammers and smashing the business into rubble, the couple made themselves the villains. Even people who started out on the opposite side had to face the fact that the couple and their backers had set out to smash all dissent, that they had ruined two people for daring to try to uphold their religious beliefs.
But they discriminated, right?
Consider this, then. Would it be legal or right to force a bakery owned by a black couple to bake a cake for a KKK party – and sue them into the ground if they refused? Would it be legal or right to insist that a Jewish or Muslim butcher sold pork – and sue them if they refused? Or would it be legal to demand ‘morning-after’ pills from a chemist – and sue him if he refused to provide a very quick abortion?
This wasn’t a case of two people in disagreement agreeing to get along. This was a case where the bakers saw themselves as condoning a lifestyle they disliked on religious grounds. Not everyone will see that argument as valid, but they took it seriously. Furthermore, whatever it looked like on the surface, it struck at a very uneasy situation and created a dangerous precedent. Consider this; if you sue to demand an abortion from a doctor who has religious objections to it, you are forcing that doctor to participate in what that doctor considers to be child murder. Can you see, even if you don’t agree with him, why he might take that badly? Or why he might support a law intent on preventing other absurd lawsuits from gaining ground?
The whole lawsuit not only made the gay community look like bullies, it opened up a whole new can of worms. If a bakery can be sued for refusing to make a cake for a gay couple, why can’t a gay bakery be sued for refusing to make a cake for blatant homophobes?
Tell me why not. Tell me why this would be illegal when the first lawsuit was legal.
What happened – the bill being signed – was the far stronger reaction, a push-back against a community that had managed to make itself look like bullies. But yes, the critics are right to worry; this too opens up a can of worms. Religious discrimination is as stupid as any other kind – and really, given the emotions unleashed, do you really think that petty idiots won’t hesitate to crack the whip?
The free market would have sorted this out. Shame it never got a chance.
The gay couple would have gone to another baker and, as people do, spread the word of how they were treated at the first baker. The second baker would become more profitable than the first baker, as many people don’t approve of discrimination even though they don’t like the thought of [whatever is being discriminated against]. Eventually, the first baker would either moderate its stance or lose profits. As businesses are driven by profits, this would eventually prove decisive.
Most importantly, there would be no martyrs on the other side – and no sense that one side had become bullies.
Food for thought, no?