Individual liberty and social justice become messy business when opposing belief systems present conflicts between two or more people. Were we a homogynous society, guiding our lives by one understanding of truth, we would not have the conflict, but liberty would also be a mute point. Adding private businesses into the decisions, and something as simple as documenting someone’s wedding in photographs and celebrating a couple’s union with a cake become collision points. Every wedding has it disaster(s) without anyone needing to kick the leg out from the bride’s and groom’s head table.
In recent years, various states have either legalized “gay” marriage, or enacted legislation and voter referandums supporting “traditional” marriages. The former appear to be gaining greater acceptance, if not by the general population, but also by various legislatures and courts striking down laws such as The Defense of Marriage Act, etc. This seems to be a vindication of liberty for those who wish to join households with personal vows and legal recognition.
Yet, a backlash has begun to occur as various business men and women who provide wedding services choose to not provide services for marriages which they disagree with, whether on religious or philosophical grounds. All of this challenges the concept of freedom of assocaition.
On one hand, having the freedom to marry (or not) someone requires freedom of association of those two individuals, as well as their social group. The argument for gay marriage is that the individuals may select a partner by their own preferences, rather than being restricted to only choosing someone from the opposite gender. I hope that they use a wide range of other criteria and characteristics too, but that is my personal bias.
On the other hand, why should a business man or woman be required to provide a service to all customers, verses the freedom to associate with whom one chooses for commerce purposes? In cases in several states, wedding photographers and cake bakers have been taken to court with accusations of discrimination when they declined to provide services for gay marriage cerimonies. Other companies have chimed in, warning politicians about financial disasters that might occur if they pass legislation that would allow someone to use “religious beliefs” as a means of justifying denial of services.
However, if a business man or woman can say “No” to baking a cake for lesbians, on religious grounds, could they also use this reason to deny services to other people. Should a Catholic cake baker provide for a second marriage, or need to check with the church to be sure that the former marriage was correctly annuled? Should a Morman photographer check on church roles to be sure that the couple has completed their mission services and are both virgins before snapping some shots? Should an Humanist printer forget about printing announcements for all those religiously-delusional couples wanting to invite guests? Should a kosher catering company refuse to set up the heating trays for a Jew marrying a Christian? It does not take long to either become ludicrous in the examples, or show how quickly society fragments over a controversial issue.
The more critical issue, in my opinion, is not as much what the individuals chose to do, but how governments (local, state, federal) act. There is a difference between allowing some activity, and requiring the same. Allowing men and men, women and women to join in marriage, is different from reqiring that men and women marry. Allowing a photographer to document a gay marriage is different from requiring that he or she sanction the ceremony.
I see two errors in our current social trends, as far as liberty is concerned. First, I beleive that the government (at all levels) should get out of the marriage business. Couples who wish to proclaim legal status should go to the court house, get a civil union, and post this in the records. Marriage ceremonies are social rituals, which faith communities, family, and/or a group of freinds can gather for to observe according to their traditions.
Second, the gay community needs to brush the chip off of its shoulder. Stop seeking legal status (e.g. discrimination law suits) to force people to accept and uphold their lifestyle. Just as there are churches and ministers which accept them, there are photographers, hair dressers, dress/suit makers, cake bakers, catering companies, events locations that are interested in their business. Start by using those who are friendly to them. Over time, they will either not need those who squirm or blush at their marriages, or will find that those same business owners realize that business and beliefs do not always mix for profits. Keep the government out of the wedding planner’s notebook.
I do not hold out for some utopian society in which everyone is accepted, or even lives with some degree of tolerance for different beliefs and rituals. However, most hot issues become tempered over time. I hope that in a few generations, we will be less concerned with who had what in their britches, as to the quality of their relationships and solidity of their social connections.