I previously wrote about Jason Kuznicki’s flawed economic analysis of the refusal of bakers, decorators, photographers, etc. to participate in same-sex weddings. I feel that it is also important to address his claim that these individuals take satisfaction in the act of discriminating. I believe this reveals how out of touch Kuznicki is in this regard.
I take issue with Kuznicki’s judgment that such people are acting ignobly or contemptibly. Consider this analogy: A non-practicing individual of non-Jewish heritage desires to have a bar mitzvah ceremony. He asks an Orthodox Jewish photographer to take pictures of the ceremony. The latter would rather not participate, as he does not consider it a proper bar mitzvah and believes his participation helps to improperly legitimize what he considers an affront to Jewish tradition. By refusing to participate in the ceremony, is the Jewish photographer acting like a bigot?
I would think the reasonable answer is no, he is not. He is holding true to his faith and traditions, even if he forgoes revenue by doing so. Rather than this being a contemptible or ignoble act, I would think of it as the opposite: the photographer acts according to his conscience even though it may result in embarrassment, disapprobation, etc.
And so it is with the bakers, decorators, and others who refuse to participate in same-sex weddings. Seeing marriage as a holy covenant between a man and a woman made before God, they do not wish to participate in a ceremony that they believe desecrates the institution. They do this out of a conviction to following their faith, despite potentially facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil damages, disapprobation by the national media, losing their business, and other negative consequences. How much easier it would be to just betray their conscience! The fact that they don’t, to me, demonstrates strong integrity.
And what should be emphasized is that by doing so, they pick no one’s pocket nor break their legs. Kuznicki does a disservice to the classical liberal perspective by claiming that they do harm by imposing an externality. They do nothing of the sort.
Kuznicki’s concluding paragraph suggests the fragility of the pluralistic, cosmopolitan, liberal (PCL) order that Cato and Niskanen Center-types champion:
We are all crazy by someone else’s lights. By our own lights, we may sometimes seem exiled to a planet full of crazies. We should be careful, then, not to purchase a small amount of symbolic protest at the price of a large amount of gains from trade. We may be on the offensive today, against what we view as the absurd politics of our bigoted neighbors. But tomorrow, someone will come asking about us, and perhaps they will boycott us as well, for reasons that we cannot fathom. Barriers to market entry should not be so easily had: Much of what we do in the way of social coordination consists of strategically ignoring everyone else’s odd, indefensible, reactionary, bigoted, hair-on-fire leftist, or otherwise totally inexcusable beliefs or practices. The market is how we lunatics all get along despite ourselves.
Now, I don’t deny that markets allow people to interact in peaceful ways. But Kuznicki is not clearly distinguishing this from the political order. The PCLs tend to be against political decentralization. One can find numerous blog posts from Cato scholars against state nullification of unconstitutional federal laws and secession, as well as Niskanen Center scholars advocate against such “balkanization.” But let’s be real: most on the left do not share their commitment to not having the state punish people who do things they don’t like. Furthermore, if your intimately-held beliefs are seen as “bigoted,” “odd,” “indefensible,” “reactionary,” or “absurd,” by a sufficient number of people with whom you are forced to associate as part of a democracy, even if those beliefs violate no one’s property rights, will you be free to believe those things?
Despite the tolerance those calling themselves classical liberals like to think they embody, they are clearly not neutral on this issue. Stated in such a way, there is a conflict between classical liberalism and holding traditional beliefs, even if those beliefs hurt no one. Why, from a classical liberal perspective, should certain beliefs that hurt no one be favored over other beliefs that hurt no one? Kuznicki gives no answer.