Last week I attempted to address the No. 1 social issue (judging by mass media reporting) currently plaguing our nation: White policemen killing unarmed black men and the suggestion that institutional racism is allowing the problem to fester. Having dealt with that, I thought I’d move on and take aim at the second most pressing social issue in America as defined for us by our wise and devoted news media: Gay marriage.
I don’t intend to address the question of whether or not gay people should have a legal right to get married, as I think the momentum towards legalizing gay marriage has already reached the point of no return. A number of states have legalized it already and I think it’s a now just a question of when, not if, same-sex marriage will become legal nationwide.
Opponents of gay marriage seem to be coming to the same conclusion and they are falling back and setting up a new line of defense. Those conservative culture warriors are now taking up the cause of wedding-related private businesses that want to deny their services to gay people who want to tie the knot. There are now competing movements in states where same-sex marriage is legal that seek to deny or protect the rights of businesses to refuse to offer their wedding-related services to gay couples. Personally, I dislike both types of laws. I have said this many times before about many different topics, and I am sure I will say it many more times in the future: We do not need laws for everything.
The problem with these social engineering-type laws is that they are ineffective and always have bad unintended consequences. Once the government sticks its nose into how businesses do business to this extent they end up screwing things up in all sorts of interesting ways that only a big, clumsy government bureaucracy can do.
Let’s imagine, for example, that I’m a baker in a state where gay marriage is legal, and my only goal in life is to bake nice, tasty cakes and get paid for it. One day a gay couple, Mary and Alice, come into my bakery and ask me to bake a cake for their wedding and I readily agree to take the job.
But then let’s imagine that Mary and Alice turn out to be difficult to work with for reasons that have nothing to do with their sexual orientation. Maybe they keep changing their minds about what they want, change the date of the wedding multiple times, and hassle me about what I want to charge. Eventually, I might have enough and say they should find someone else to bake their darn cake.
You can probably see where this is going. They could very well get angry once I bow out of the job and claim that I don’t want to do business with them only because they are gay. They might be so mad that they decide to sue me for discrimination. Now I have to shell out money for a lawyer so I can convince the government that my business decision was not made based on beliefs and attitudes that it has deemed unacceptable.
All “equal opportunity” laws have the same inherent problem -- they put the government in the position of determining what our real motivations are and it causes all manner of costly, unnecessary legal actions. I believe the net effect on businesses and on society at large is more bad than good.
We’d be better off letting the free market correct these issues as it will do a better job than the government would do. If our theoretical baker doesn’t want to bake a cake for Mary and Alice because they are gay they will find one who will, and recommend that less-discriminatory baker to all of their gay and straight friends. Believe me, if there is someone anxious to spend their money on something, someone will appear to provide the service they are seeking (something economists call “the invisible hand”). That’s the beauty of the free market, and though it’s not perfect, it works pretty well if you give it a chance.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.