Religious liberty was in the news again. Thankfully, however, the news was good: California, which was poised, in effect, to run religious colleges in the state out of business with bill SB1146, has relented.
Crises averted indeed. Yet it is naïve to think that the attacks on religious liberty will end here. If anything, given the social climate and the left’s desire to shove its sexual libertinist moral universe down dissenters’ throats, they will likely double or triple—especially with a Clinton presidency. For this reason, then, we must be ready to anticipate and be able to persuasively respond to arguments that leftists deploy against religious liberty.
Since much fuss has been made about Christians refusing to bake cakes for same-sex “weddings,” this would be a good topic to tackle and master. Leftists have, in recent years, sought to make an example of Christian bakers who object to baking cakes or other services for same-sex “weddings.” Consider the case of florist Barronelle Stutzman; or bakers Melissa and Aaron Klein; or baker Jack Phillips.
By now we know what sorts of arguments leftists deploy in favor of penalizing bakers who object to baking a cake for same-sex “weddings.” They look something like this: “Not baking cakes for a homosexual couple’s ‘wedding’ involves unjust discrimination on the part of the baker on the basis of the customer’s sexual orientation. Unjust discrimination on the basis of a customer’s sexual orientation is wrong and ought to be punished by the law. Therefore refusing to bake cakes for homosexual couples’ ‘weddings’ is wrong and ought to be punished by law.”
Is this a good argument? I submit that it is not. Consider the argument’s first premise, that not baking cakes for a homosexual couple’s “wedding” involves unjust discrimination on the part of the baker. Is this premise true? It seems that we can give several reasons to think that it is not.
Put to one side the question of whether we can make sense of what the leftist means here by “sexual orientation” or whether we can make sense of using such a criteria for classifying a group of people. Here is one such reason as to why the premise is not true: in all the cases where a business owner has declined to bake a cake for a same-sex “wedding,” the owner has objected not to the nature of the customer qua same-sex attracted but rather to the act of providing his services to the same-sex “marriage” itself. The baker considers providing his services for a same-sex “wedding” to be morally defective to the extent that it involves telling a lie about marriage—namely, that it has nothing to do with sexual complementarity and sexual dimorphism.
We can demonstrate that this is the case with the following examples. Consider the following scenario: A man walks into the Christian baker’s bakery and tells the owner: “Hey! I’d like a wedding cake for my wedding. I’m getting married to another man. Oh, I see you are Christian. Don’t worry, though! I’m not sexually attracted to this other man; I am a heterosexual and we’re just getting married for the tax breaks.”
The owner, presumably, will decline this transaction.
Another man walks into the bakery and says: “Hi! I’d like a wedding cake for my wedding. I’m getting married to a beautiful woman whom I love and want to have children with. But, alas, I am same-sex attracted.”
The owner would, presumably, happily bake the cake for this man.
If the claims of the left were right, the baker should refuse the second transaction but not the first transaction because the second transaction involves a transaction with a man who is same-sex attracted (i.e., in modern parlance, a “homosexual”).
Yet the exact opposite is true: any baker who has a moral objection to same-sex “marriage” or same-sex sexual conduct will, ordinarily, not refuse the second transaction but will indeed refuse the first transaction.
What explains this? This: the baker who rejects a transaction that involves baking a cake for a same-sex “wedding” is rejecting the transaction not because the persons procuring the cake are same-sex attracted—the baker simply doesn’t care whether the customers are same-sex attracted or not. What the baker is objecting to is the fact that, as far as he is concerned (and as far as truth is concerned), a “wedding” between two men or two women tells a lie about marriage that the baker does not want to be complicit in.
In other words, leftists seem to think, and obviously falsely so, that Christian bakers object to providing any one of their services to anyone who is same-sex attracted. The above demonstrates that this belief is false. So does the fact that Christian bakers are more than willing to bake, say, birthday cakes for those who are same-sex attracted. Indeed, Barronelle Stutzman served her same-sex attracted friend for years before declining to make a floral arrangement for her friend’s “wedding” to another man.
But if all of this is true, then it is not the case that Christian owners who are objecting to baking cakes are involved in any sort of unjust discrimination whereby they refuse a transaction because of a person’s same-sex attraction. They instead object to being complicit in telling a lie about marriage, which they are right to consider as morally defective. And so the first premise is false, so the argument is unsound.
Regaining Social Sanity
But it is naive to think that rebutting leftists’ arguments against religious liberty will succeed in causing leftists to abandon their project of bringing those who object to same-sex “marriage” and their sexual libertinist project to heel. This will simply not suffice to bring back some sanity in the US’s social policies.
No, what is required, in addition to defending religious liberty on its own grounds, is to defend the vision of sexuality that the Christian baker holds to be true on its own grounds. In other words, we must defend—through arguments accessible through public reason—the contention that marriage is and can only be between a man and a woman and that non-marital sexual acts are impermissible. This can be done. Indeed, it has been capably done.
Without such a defense, our pleas for religious liberty amount to nothing more than admissions of guilt accompanied by a request to be let off scot-free for them. Without defending these views on their own terms, our demands that religious liberty be protected sound like this to leftists: “Yes, I hold to this implausible and medieval view of marriage and sexuality. But, hey, I should be free to hold it and act upon it!” This is not a position we want to find ourselves in. We have to make a persuasive case, accessible to public reason, that our views on such matters are correct and we must work to elect representatives who are capable of eloquently defending these views on their merits. We must also seek to enter into charitable conversations with our friends who disagree with us on such matters and make a convincing case for why our views are correct and and why they deserve religious liberty.
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