It’s not a photographer, chapel, baker or pizza place this time, indeed not even a business that discriminates or that said that would ever discriminate. As for the allegedly aggrieved gay couple involved, they did not choose the establishment looking for a fight or to make headlines, nor do they claim they were treated differently than any other couple would be, or that they were discriminated against.
Canadians Nicole White and Pam Renouf, a same-sex couple, went shopping for engagement rings a few months ago, and eventually found Today’s Jewelers in Mount Pearl, in Newfoundland, which specializes in custom-made rings. Everything went well as they ordered their rings and agreed on a price—the service, the atmosphere, the professionalism was all as it should have been. “They knew the two of us were a same-sex couple,” White said.”I referred some of my friends to them, just because I did get some good customer service and they had good prices.”
One of her friends took such an endorsement and went in to Today’s Jewellers to buy a ring for his girlfriend. There he saw a recently posted sign in the store. This sign:
He took a photo, and sent it to White.
The couple went to the store the following day, and complained about the sign. Esau Jardon, the co-owner of Today’s Jewelers, was unapologetic.He said that he posts several signs in his store throughout the year related to his beliefs, and that he saw no reason to stop doing so. “I just said it was very disrespectful, it’s very unprofessional, and I wanted a refund,” White told the news media. “I have no issues with them believing in what they believe in. I think everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. But I don’t think they should put their personal beliefs inside their business.”
White and Renouf demanded a refund, and Today’s Jewelers refused, until the story began circulating on the web and the jewelry store began getting the Angry Progressive Mob bullying treatment, with online attacks and smears on social media. Finally the jeweler decided that discretion is the better part of valor (Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part I”) and gave in, up and out. White and Renouf were allowed to return the ring and get a full refund.
What’s going on here?
The ethics verdicts:
1. White and Renouf did nothing wrong, unless it was to sic the gay marriage advocates on a small business. They felt that the rings would have unpleasant associations now, and I don’t blame them. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to come up with circumstances unrelated to gay marriage that would justify returning the rings…If a bloody shoot out occurred in the store after the purchase…if the owner had dozens of bodies of small boys stuffed in a crawl-space…it he revealed as a Nazi war criminal in hiding…if he was discovered to be a cannibal…if he was a member of a terror cell…if he was struck and killed by a hit and run driver moments after they left the store…if they learned that the ring had been previously owned by victims of a serial killer still on the loose. Et cetera…I can go on like this for days.
White says the rings were meant to be a symbol of love, but the sign “tainted” them. I understand. Everyone should understand.
2. The jeweler also should understand. While he didn’t have a legal obligation to provide a refund, what he did, in the eyes of his customers, which is the ethical way to evaluate the situation, by posting the sign constituted the ethical equivalent of a bait-and-switch. Once White and Renouf had every reason to look back on the purchase of the rings as a pleasant experience dealing with a supportive, kindly member of the community who wished them well. Now it has become an interaction with business harboring negative thoughts about them and their union, while being “tolerant” for profit.
I wouldn’t want to keep my rings under such circumstances. Would you?
3. Esau Jardon was indeed within his rights, and because he does not discriminate regarding whom he serves, barely avoids wrongdoing, but just barely, which is nothing to be proud of. His sign gratuitously insults a potential class of customers, and accomplishes the same result, or close to it, as he would with a sign that said “Fag couples are not welcome in this store, but if you insist, we’ll take their money and smile while doing it.” The practice of stratifying merchants, artisans and businesses according to religious beliefs and politics is noxious and harmful to pluralism, democracy, and society. This is too close to the line for me, and I also agree with White that it is unprofessional.
4. There are some pundits who are condemning the critics of the Today’s Jewelers’ for forcing the company to refund the money. There is nothing wrong with a public debate over such an incident, and as long as the tactics don’t cross into Memories Pizza territory, the criticism is unwarranted.
5. That extends only to criticism of the initial refusal to refund, however. If a business has made it clear that it will not discriminate in any way, it should not be visited by avenging pro-gay marriage Furies for simply being candid about the owner’s views on the matter.