Libertarians, gay marriage, and freedom of association

Should a Baker Be Able to Refuse to Sell a Wedding Cake to an Interracial Couple?

Many libertarians would say yes (including myself—so much for public office). Yet America’s history of very serious discrimination against blacks, much of which was not just permitted but enforced by the government and through legal channels, has influenced the way many people see freedom of association. This outcome is understandable, but whenever we talk about restricting a right (and libertarians generally acknowledge that rights may be restricted when they interfere with the expression of the rights of others), the restriction must be considered within the scope of all potential solutions. Restricting a right is a form of government control over individual liberty. Once we accept allowing the government to restrict freedom, it is very difficult for the public to control how this power may manifest later; thus, our resistance to censorship.

It is very difficult to argue that a wedding cake is a necessity for any human being of any race, religion, or sexual orientation. A person does not need a wedding cake to survive. As humiliating as it may be to be refused a cake for bigoted reasons, there’s no physical or economic harm being done to somebody refused a wedding cake.

Nor does the denial of a wedding cake deny the ability of a gay or interracial couple to actually acquire a wedding cake from another source. The existence of marketplace alternatives is another reason why libertarians would be reluctant to restrict the baker’s freedom of association. This is far from “redlining,” where banks and insurance companies colluded and denied loans and insurance to swaths of minorities in inner city neighborhoods. As unpleasant as these anti-gay discriminatory acts are, they have been shown to be isolated incidents scattered across the country in situations where the victims had the ability to remedy the situation by turning to other businesses.