I’m sure you’ve heard the argument: A Christian who refuses to support same-sex marriage is like a business owner in the segregated South who refused to serve black people. If you refuse to use your skill to profit off something that you find sinful, so the argument goes, are you not exactly like those businesses that turned African-Americans away?
Here are two real-life examples: there was a baker in Oregon who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The Oregon Labor Commission found that this was illegal discrimination. The baker was forced to go out of business, or face fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He ended up closing his doors.
Then there was the photographer in New Mexico who was asked to shoot a same-sex wedding. She refused, basically saying because she thought the marriage was sinful, she was not sure her pictures would present the ceremony in the best light, so to speak (she in turn recommended other photographers who could do the wedding). The New Mexico Supreme Court found her guilty of “human rights violations” by discriminating.
By refusing to promote the same-sex weddings, are these businesses discriminating illegally? Well—yes. At least according to the Supreme Court in New Mexico and the Labor Commission in Oregon. But is this morally the same thing as those who discriminated against people on the basis of skin color? Absolutely not. Here are three reasons why:
First, the businesses were not discriminating against people, but against an act that they found sinful. In other words, these businesses all served homosexual customers for years without refusing. The photographer in New Mexico told the New York Times that she would “gladly serve gays and lesbians” by doing portraits or other work. It was only when she was asked to use her services to promote a certain event that she refused. These owners did not discriminate against a person, but instead simply refused to violate their consciences by promoting a wedding that they found immoral.
Second, and most importantly, the distinction between racial discrimination and same-sex marriage is a moral one. The Scripture condemns racial discrimination (eg. Gen 1:27, John 7:24, Acts 10:34-35, Romans 10:12, 2 Cor 5:16, Gal 3:28, Eph 6:9, James 2:9). The Scripture also condemns homosexual actions (Lev 18:22, 20:13; Rom 1:26-28, 1 Cor 6:9-11, 1 Tim 1:10, Heb 13:1-5, Jude 7). So the discriminating owners in the segregated south and the religious business owners in a post-gender America are on two opposite ends of the moral spectrum. But typical of our culture, we have become completely adept at confusing something that is immoral with something that is moral.
Third, there is the element of human nature and dignity. One of the reasons racial discrimination was so wrong is because it had as its goal the denial of basic human dignity to people based on their ethnicity. But saying that you believe that marriage is between a man and woman is not a denial of the human dignity of either (Gen 1:27, Matthew 19:4-5, Mark 10:6-9, 1 Cor 7:2). Instead, it is an affirmation that the genders were created differently and uniquely by God.
Beyond those reasons, there is the element of speech. Taking pictures at a ceremony or making a cake for a wedding are active forms of positive expression. It is not a coincidence that the first lawsuits of this kind were designed to compel people to make an expression that celebrates something they find sinful. The point is that people who are redefining marriage are not after wedding cakes as much as they are after affirmation–and the legal system is more than willing to compel religious people to speak in favor of gay marriage, or lose their businesses all together. There really is no parallel to that in the segregated South.
There is a current case working its way through courts in Colorado with a different baker who was sued for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. He was found guilty and liable by the State Civil Rights Commission. It has been suggested that the best course of action for bakers, photographers, florists and the like is that they accept these jobs, and simply do a sub-par job at them. In other words, take their money and deliver an inadequate product—that will teach them! But has anyone ever heard of someone doing that? The truth is, Christians care more about providing a good product (as we glorify God by how we work) than avoiding lawsuits.
It is definitely time that Christians come to terms with the concept that our legal system is not interested in protecting our freedom to live and work in a way that is in keeping with biblical ethics. More and more people are being forced to choose between finding themselves on the wrong end of legal judgments and violating their basic sense of morality. When you find yourself in that situation, don’t compromise. There is a fate worse than a fine—and it has nothing to do with the hollow judgments of labor boards and human rights commissions.