I’m not exaggerating: I have at least four Comments of the Day stacked up on the Ethics alarms runway after this one, and there are usually COTDs arriving on Saturdays. I can’t promise to get all of them up today, especially since I’m hacking away at the 2017 Ethics Alarms Awards, and this is a long working weekend at ProEthics. Still, I will get a lot of them to you, and it’s a provocative group, as you will soon see.
But first, a prelude and some context.
An Oregon appellate court this week upheld a ruling against the owners of the since-closed Sweetcakes by Melissa, Aaron and Melissa Klein, forcing them to pay emotional-distress damages of $135,000 to Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, a lesbian couple for whom they refused to design and sell a wedding cake almost five years ago. The Klein’s argued that state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian violated state and federal laws and their rights as artists to free speech, their rights to religious freedom and their rights as defendants to due process.
The Oregon court ruled that the Kleins’ argument that their cakes entail an artistic expression is “entitled to be taken seriously,” but it’s not enough for the couple to assert their cakes are pieces of art:
“Although we accept that the Kleins imbue each wedding cake with their own aesthetic choices, they have made no showing that other people will necessarily experience any wedding cake that the Kleins create predominantly as ‘expression’ rather than as food.”
This mess commenced when Rachel Bowman-Cryer went to the suburban Portland bakery with her mother in January of 2013. When Aaron Klein was told that the wedding did not involve a male partner, he said that the bakery did not make cakes for same-sex weddings. They left, but soon the mother returned to argue with Klein as Rachel sat in the car, weeping. her mother went in to speak with Klein. The mother told Klein she had once thought like him, but having two gay children forced her to see the error of her ways. Klein retorted with Leviticus: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”
The complaint and action by Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries followed. You can read the opinion here.
This case is even worse than the one currently before the Supreme Court, discussed here.
I can’t imagine that if Colorado baker Jack Phillips wins the SCOTUS case it won’t throw the Oregon Appeals ruling here into limbo. Yet there are significant and, I would say, material differences. This one might need its own review, and like the Colorado case, it all could have been avoided if the parties weren’t determined to be Golden Rule-defying jerks.
Citing Leviticus as an appeal to authority dodge, for that is what it is ultimately, demands contempt and rejection. Religious practices, faith and belief are all worthy of respect. Citing a section of the Torah/Old Testament completed over 2500 years ago by author or authors unknown (no, it was not Moses) should not and cannot be sufficient to override laws, equal protection, societal standards and common decency. 2500 years ago! The authors had a tiny fraction of the knowledge we have now, and 2500 years less experience. Why would anyone ever cite such pronouncements in a modern context? Well, I know why, but government and law cannot carve out exceptions for people who want to be silly, stubborn, or ignorant to the detriment of society. Has Klein researched scholarship about his source, or is it just a handy-dandy excuse to be gratuitously cruel?
Then there is the inconvenient fact that the passage cited doesn’t apply to the couple involved. “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” does not render a judgment about women at all. I know: “scholars” have determined that God, speaking from the authors, was speaking about lesbians too; no really—they are sure of it. Sorry: God knows everything, and he should be held to at least the same standards of precision as human legislators. The Oregon bakers had no persuasive authority for their objection to same-sex female weddings at all. We can’t permit public accommodation laws to be vetoed by fanciful extrapolation, even if we could accept that Leviticus had any validity in 2017.
The court’s argument about art, however, is incompetent and embarrassing. Art isn’t art unless others consider it art? So much for Jackson Pollack, hip-hop, James Patterson and Adam Sandler, I guess. That reasoning shouldn’t last 30 seconds in the next appeal.
But the damages! $135,000 for emotional distress due to a conversation in a bakery? That borders on cruel and unusual punishment. File the complaint, have the bigoted bakers fined and get another cake. If this kind of conflict justifies six-figure damages, any verbal cruelty does.
The couple, the bakers, and the State of Oregon are all unethical here, irresponsible and incompetent.
And with this in mind, here is the Comment of the Day by Alizia for perspective and reflection. (There is one section omitted that has no relevance to the rest).
How does it relate to the post under which it appeared, An Ethics Alarms Holiday Challenge! Identify The Rationalizations, Logical Fallacies, Falsehoods And Outright Errors In This Essay Advocating Limits On Speech…?
Well, for one thing, it is the kind of speech Noah Berlatsky thinks we should be able to ban. A lot of Alizia’s comments are. (I’ll be back at the end)…
By God’s Grace we will act in this present to reverse the damage your generation has brought as it pertains to the perversions of homosexuality and deviant sexuality and the collusion between Hollywood, government and media activists in a social engineering project to make homosexuality seem normal and good and to ‘install’ it in people’s minds and in culture.
Homosexuals and homosexuality have always existed and will always exist, but they have not always been so visible and allowed to be so influential. And this is what will be reversed. It was put in motion over time and with the assent of people’s conscience, and it will be reversed through the same means.
I will not tire in repeating: there is a movement which has begun in all the English speaking countries, in all the countries of Europe to establish an idea-base and idea-activism to turn back the perversions of America and ‘the Americanopolis.’ The world-movement to make homosexuality seem a normal and even a desirable option began in the US and it was carried out by homosexual activists in PR and in Hollywood.
Through similar activism, and through the indolence and pervasiveness of your generation, having come about through nescience and, I guess, your own sexual confusion, pornography and bizarre sexuality have become a feature of the present, as easily obtainable as gumdrops. In this way you have directly contributed to the open perversion of your children and the world’s children. By God’s Grace your own perversions will be brought out into the light of day and branded as such. How to begin? By talking about it. By opening the topic up for conversation. By going into the spiritual and the metaphysical dimension of the question.
…I am of the young generation and know of dozens of people in my group who not only think as I do but are devoting their lives and time and resources to reversing the trends of perversion *you* have allowed to be put in motion.
I am not picking on Alizia, who is, amazingly enough, far from the only intelligent, serious, well-read person to express these views. This deserves to be a Comment of the Day for this very reason: somehow she, the bigoted bakers and a lot of Americans persist in a belief and position that does real damage to innocent people justified by nothing but obstinacy and denial. Alizia provides a useful example of the fallacies brought into the argument by anti-gay zealots. There isn’t a single substantive data point in sight.
Gay people have always been powerful, influential and major contributors to society. They just have only recently been able to reveal that they are gay. The US has had one gay President (at least); Great Britain had at least two gay kings; Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar were gay (and more than one other Roman Emperor); Sweden’s Queen Christina, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, Socrates, Aristotle and Plato; Ralph Waldo Emerson (while we’re on the topic of philosophers) James Baldwin, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, William Butler Yeats, J.M. Barrie, George Bernard Shaw, Noel Coward, Larry Hart, and Cole Porter; E.M. Forster, Tennessee Williams, Marcel Proust, Henry James, and Oscar Wilde; Eleanor Roosevelt and Sir Francis Bacon, J. Edgar Hoover, Alan Turing (who was essential to winning World War II, as well as launching the age of computers), George Washington Carver; Tchaikovsky! Beethoven! Handel! Saint-Saens! Chopin! Schubert! Benjamin Britten, and Aaron Copeland; John Maynard Keynes, and probably a majority of actors and male ballet dancers. Those are just some of the influential gays through history we know about: I think it’s fair to say the world would be very, very different, and much worse, without their influence.
On the other side, the vital ways in which gays are harmful to society and others, we have nothing. Nothing! How people express themselves sexually has no impact of strangers or anyone not in the bedroom. The conduct is not unethical, or any more “perverted” than any other sexual activity between consenting adults. Nor can something that has been part of human behavior for eons be called “unnatural.”
The opposition to allowing gays to be respected citizens like any other law abiding human beings is, and has always been, based on the ick factor and attendant ignorance. People once believed you could catch homosexuality, like a cold. It was a perversion because the people calling it a perversion found it repulsive, and, by extension, proof of bad character. Eating raw oysters and enjoying Lawrence Welk is a perversion by the same standards. Alizia’s position—a common one— is built on marshmallow, quicksand–and air. No science, no experience, no history, no common sense, no evidence nor objective and informed observations.
All there is left to fall back on is…Leviticus.