The saga of the so-called anti-LGBT Arizona bill has come to an end for now. Governor Janice Brewer vetoed the controversial bill that would have permitted businesses to refuse to serve customers that act contrary to their religious beliefs. Mounting pressure from federal politicians and even the NFL was probably too much to bear.
Many people around the country rejoiced at this veto; I didn’t. Even though this discrimination could have affected me directly, I still firmly believe the defunct bill should have been supported by any person believing in a free society.
Indeed, it was defending one of the most basic rights of the Western civilization: the right to property. Without a strong legal defense of this right, almost nothing would happen in our society. Would you buy a car or create a new line of clothes if you weren’t relatively sure you could make use of them safely? Would you risk accumulating wealth if you knew it could be stolen?
Along with the right to property comes the right to dispose of it as you see fit, as long as you don’t infringe on other people’s own right to property. With that understood, as much as you enjoy your car, you can’t voluntarily run over pedestrians or into buildings. For the new line of clothes, you are free to get your raw materials and workforce anywhere, so long as you respect the contracts you sign.
The moral claim to property, including the right to dispose of one’s possessions, applies anywhere and always for any private citizen. I insist on the word “private,” because the government does have an obligation to treat every citizen equally before the law without discrimination; private citizens do not.
A florist refusing to sell his products to a lesbian couple is indeed discriminating against them, but he has committed no crime. The same goes for a photographer refusing to offer her services to a gay couple celebrating their union.
In both instances, we have business owners disposing of their property as they see fit, which meant (perhaps foolishly) refusing to sell their products and services to a certain category of people. They have chosen to forgo a business opportunity that a competitor will pick up.
But as I stated before, they committed no crime. The “right to discriminate” has nothing to do with the Jim Crow South. During that era, businesses were compelled to discriminate against people on the basis of race. This is the United States in 2014, where all citizens are (relatively) equal before the law. Very few laws still explicitly discriminate specific people or force people to do so.
Using the government to force people to dispose of their property in ways they would normally not can lead to ridiculous situations, like men suing Hooters for being turned down for a job. But above all, it leads government to violate the very private property it was meant to protect. Therefore, government becomes a biased arbiter that favors specific groups without any justification.
So it’s too bad Governor Brewer vetoed that bill. Despite its “encouragement” to discrimination, it was above all meant to protect the fundamental right dispose of one’s property as one sees fit. It could have worked in many ways: the gay owner of an assembly hall could have turned down a conservative association; a Jewish caterer could have refused to serve a Neo-Nazi event; and restaurant owners would have been free to refuse service to state legislators who had voted for the bill.