Cake and Cosmology

April 9, 2015

Woody Woods, my friend and law professor back in the day, shared Cake and Cosmology earlier in the week. Rod Dreher, who wrote the piece for The American Conservative, has serious conservative credentials. Cake and Cosmology further developed my thinking about the obligation to do business with people with whom we disagree, and I’m betting it’ll have you thinking more about this issue, too.

Mr. Dreher posits a situation in which you’re a Christian baker, sharing a neighborly relationship with a gay couple. Should you: (a) bake a birthday cake for one of the neighbors; (b) bake a cake for a wake when one of the neighbors dies; and (c) bake a wedding cake, after the neighbors tie the knot. If your answers would be no, no, and no, Mr. Dreher thinks “you ought to examine yourself for homophobia.” And, if your answers are yes, yes, and no, Mr. Dreher says it’s wrong to suggest that you might be violating the law by refusing to bake the wedding cake.

Mr. Dreher’s analysis is worth reading. In the end, though, he’s analyzing a set of highly unlikely situations. How so? First of all, it’s hard to imagine a Christian baker who has a “neighborly relationship with a gay couple” who would say no to the birthday cake or baking for the wake. Anyone who won’t bake cakes A and B—someone who, per Mr. Dreher, should be concerned about homophobia—doesn’t likely have a neighborly relationship with a gay couple.

Second, there’s the matter of the Christian baker whose only issue is the wedding cake. Here, the call is certainly closer, but I still have a hard time believing there are many bakers, if any, whose affection for their neighbors ends when they’re allowed to marry. In all events, I doubt whether there are many “wedding cake” situations.

Cake and Cosmology expresses plenty of frustration about the imposition of “wedding cake” requirements on decent Christians. And I can appreciate Mr. Dreher’s perspective. In my world, I choose not to represent people whose causes are not compatible with my views. Other attorneys are more flexible in this regard, and I admire them for their willingness to give anyone his or her day in court.

Here’s the rub, though. Advocates for the laws in Indiana and Arkansas—and the even more offensive legislation which has been advanced in Louisiana—don’t focus solely on the Christian baker (or florist), asked to provide products for a same sex wedding. They want, instead, the freedom to not do business with anyone with whom they disagree on religious grounds. The same groups which advanced these new laws fought for Hobby Lobby and other corporations’ right to deny contraceptive coverage for employees, and advocate for a pharmacist’s right to not fill prescriptions for emergency contraceptives, and for a physician’s right to not treat gay people.

In many places in our nation there may be only one pharmacist and one physician in a community. Thus, not providing medicine or treatment may impose on someone a significant inconvenience or worse. And how is this different from the cake example? Or my decision not to advocate for certain causes?

About wedding cakes, I find myself frustrated and recalling father George Banks’ observation to wedding planner Franck Egglehoffer in Father of the Bride: “A cake, Franck, is made of flour and water.” We should not have be having a serious debate, when we’re focused on cake. Really!

And about my limitations? Representing someone I don’t like or approve of, or someone whose beliefs I don’t share, has never been an issue. The limitation only arises when I’m being asked to advocate for beliefs I don’t share.

So, to the baker I pose this question: Are you really advocating for or approving of same sex marriage when you bake a cake? Or are you wanting to express your disapproval by not serving certain members of the public? Ditto for the pharmacist and physician.

In sum, and with appreciation for Mr. Dreher’s attempt to “go deep,” I think too many are using a claimed desire not to become an involuntary advocate as an opportunity to assert contrary beliefs. And, frankly, if you’re the baker I worry not so much. On the other hand, if you’re a pharmacist, physician, or service provider whose services matter, particularly in a small community, your actions concern me greatly.

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