The right to refuse service? - John C. Kirk
Feb. 25th, 2014
03:42 am - The right to refuse service?
In the last few days, I've read a couple of stories about companies refusing to do business with gay people:
The Telegraph has a bit more info on the first story:
"The conservative southern state of Arizona has passed a controversial law allowing businesses to refuse to serve gay people if it goes against the owners' religious beliefs."
The governor hasn't (or hadn't) approved that bill yet, so I'm not quite clear on the legal status, but it doesn't bode well. This reminds me of the photos I've seen from the 1950s, showing racial segregation in the USA. If the law goes ahead, George Takei has proposed that people should boycott the entire state. Personally, I've never been to America, and I don't have any particular plans to go, so there's not much I can do differently, but I think that this law is wrong.
Edit: The state governor vetoed the bill.
The second story is a bit closer to home: a gay couple are getting married in Scotland, and they wanted to hire a "candy cart" for the reception. (I assume that this is a trolley filled with pick'n'mix sweets, or something similar.) However, the company owner refused to supply their wedding, because she's opposed to gay marriage.
I don't know the couple in question, and the company (Sweetsation) haven't made any public announcement, although a lot of people have sent them comments on Facebook and Twitter. So, I don't know whether this story is actually true, but for now I'm taking it at face value. The company have certainly seen the messages (they've deleted lots of Facebook comments); I'm wary about saying that anyone has a moral/legal obligation to publically deny false rumours, but pragmatically I think it would make sense for them to say something.
Personally, as I've said before, I'm in favour of gay marriage. (More generally, I'll support marriage between any two adults who have capacity and give consent and aren't already married to anyone else.) If I owned a candy cart business then I would be quite happy to cater for gay weddings. However, this situation seems a bit different to one in Arizona. I don't know how the law applies to this, so I'm just thinking about this in terms of my conscience.
Looking at the final line of the blog post:
"Organising your wedding is supposed to be full of excitement and happiness and unfortunately Sweetsation Carts has ruined that for us."
Is it really that big a deal? Couldn't they just buy some sweets from someone else? Admittedly, it's easy for me to say that, since I'm not being excluded and I've never planned a wedding. I also thought that the letter from the company owner was quite polite, since she didn't directly insult them, she just said that she didn't want to be a hypocrite.
Another aspect is that this seems like a different type of business relationship. For instance, suppose that I was doing freelance work as a web developer. I think it would be fair enough to refuse work from particular clients, e.g. if I said "I won't deal with the Liberal Democrats after they broke their promise on tuition fees." On the other hand, if I was running a pub (implicitly open to everyone over a certain age) and LibDem MPs came in then I would serve them like any other customer. I don't actually have any huge grudge against the LibDems, I'm just using them as an example. However, sexual orientation is one of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010, whereas political views aren't.
If there is a difference between customers and clients, I'm not sure where I'd draw the line. For instance, several supermarkets run home delivery services, and I'd expect them to deliver to all customers (in a particular geographical area), so it's not simply a question of whether you go to them or they come to you. Similarly, if this was a car hire company then I'd expect them to rent out their cars to any customer (possibly subject to a credit check), so it's not about the scarcity of particular equipment (i.e. having to choose between customers/events). I wondered whether it's about providing a personalised service, either because the company is doing something that's customised for them (e.g. a cake design) or because their staff are spending a significant amount of time on the customer's site. However, I don't think it would be right for a chimney sweep to refuse business from a gay couple either.
Maybe the issue here is that it's the nature of the event rather than the characteristics of the couple. If they'd tried to book the candy cart for a birthday party, that would be the equivalent of them booking a table in a restaurant, and if the company owner had refused then it would be pretty much the same as the companies who'd (hypothetically) refuse entry to gay customers in Arizona. However, if the owner is specifically opposed to the wedding taking place then I can understand her not wanting to be involved with the wedding itself.
I don't really have a conclusion here, but I think this has at least been a useful mental exercise for me, just trying to work out why these two situations felt different, and whether there's any rational basis for that.