You Didn’t Build That Business, and You Don’t Run It, Either

During the 2012 campaign, President Obama famously said, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that, someone else made it happen.”

And now, it appears, if you’ve got a business, someone else makes what you do with it happen, too.

Imagine you’re a Jewish tailor, the child of holocaust survivors. Into your shop comes a gay neo-Nazi couple demanding that you make SS uniforms for their forthcoming nuptials.

“Nein,” you say?

“Jawoll,” says a Colorado judge, the New Mexico Supreme Court, the ACLU—and so is the Civil Rights Commission expected to say next week.

The precedents:

In Colorado, a baker who refused to sell a same-sex couple a wedding cake has been ordered by a judge that he must—a ruling that makes the complainants, who must not have been able to buy a cake anywhere else, “ecstatic.”

In Washington state, a similar suit is pending against a florist who refused to provide service for a same-sex wedding (presumably the only florist available).

And in New Mexico, the State Supreme Court ruled that a photographer who declined to photograph a commitment ceremony is violating others’ rights—and that the photographer has none.

Lest you think I’m engaging in hyperbole, here—in their own words—are the justifications for the Colorado ruling:

“At first blush, it may seem reasonable that a private business should be able to refuse service to anyone it chooses,” Judge Spencer said in his written order. “This view, however, fails to take into account the cost to society and the hurt caused to persons who are denied service simply because of who they are.”

And the ACLU attorney who represented the now-“ecstatic” couple who had no choice but the one baker who refused them service, said:

…treating gay people differently because of who they are is discrimination, plain and simple.

So, if “who you are” is a Neo-Nazi, a member of the North American Man-Boy Love Association, or a polygamist—apparently you, too, can be protected regardless of law. After all, Colorado has a ban on gay marriage, yet its court is directing a baker to make a same-sex wedding cake.


Business owners have not, of course, been free to run their businesses as they saw fit at any time in memory, and we have had principled friends who gave up their manufacturing business during World War II rather than have to run it as a munitions factory for the government. So when a service provider whose services can be got at any number of alternative sources is ordered to perform his craft for whomever’s demands the government favors today, we need, more than ever, those who understand principle to stand with us against overreaching government, the ACLU, and every misguided “rights” activist.

Arbitrary rulings such as these simply underscore the idiocy of mixing the concept of “rights” with “favor.” Free and open commerce can’t deprive anyone of rights: only the state, with its monopoly on force, can. As evidenced by the history of the fights for the abolition of slavery, equal rights for women, and civil rights, it has been government’s enforcement of rights violations that has had to be overcome:

Jim Crow laws were passed to prevent blacks and whites from doing what they were voluntarily doing in the aftermath of the Civil War: intermingling, intermarrying, and engaging in commerce together. Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson broke the color bar long before the U.S. government succumbed to cultural pressure to do so. Ditto laws that prohibited women from owning property (including themselves), divorcing, or entering into contracts. And politicians passed, and their enforcement agencies carried out, anti-sodomy and other anti-gay laws.

Business owners who choose not to engage in commerce with those against whom they discriminate—whether based in religion, race, gender, or any other reason—themselves bear the economic costs of their behavior. Those seeking to maximize their profits and opportunities receive benefits from doing business free of discrimination. The baker, florist, and photographer who agree to serve the same-sex couples gain and flourish!

For blacks, women, and now gays to embrace as their protector the very mechanism that has hitherto enforced the deprivation of their God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is ludicrous. Free association builds bridges and brings us closer in win-win relationships: as with the gay mother who discovers that Chik-fil-a offers a welcome respite for her road-weary family. Coercion creates resentment, fuels fear of the “other” and divisiveness.

Thus, a society free of diktat is the best guarantee that those most discriminated against at any time can still find the jobs, goods, and services they want and need. And so to our mission: to boldly advance peaceful, prosperous, and free societies grounded in a commitment to human worth and dignity.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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