On April 1st, Indiana Governor Mike Pence requested a revision of his state’s recent “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” which, potentially allows for-profit businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexuality. The law spurred widespread boycott campaigns and in which individuals, as well as, state and local governments refused to do business in Indiana. Corporations such as Apple, Angie’s List and Eli Lilly have expressed opposition to the law and Walmart has expressed opposition to a similar bill in Arkansas. Pence now requests the bill be revised to forbid discrimination.
Though there are undoubtedly some supporters of the current bill who have genuine concerns about freedom of association, much there are many whose stance comes from a bigotry that should be denounced. Discrimination against LGBT people is despicable and religious doctrines that justify it hold society back. That said, such bigotry should be fought in the realm of public opinion, through boycotts, denunciations, educational outreach and information campaigns, rather than through the state. Using coercive state power to limit one’s ability to refuse service causes problems even when the people it is directed against are bigots. It is a violation of personal freedom which understandably causes resentment. Additionally forcing people to do business with anyone they do not want to, legitimizes the victim-hood complexes that anti-gay bigots all too often have.
State action against discrimination is at best a band-aid measure, since state action itself empowers discriminators in the first place. The increased costs associated with licensing, zoning, housing and building requirements kills many businesses and keep many more from even starting. As a result customers are often far more dependent on a small number of established firms to meet their needs. If even a few of these firms are run by anti-gay bigots, the customer often suffers a great inconvenience to go elsewhere. The same goes for patents and copyrights which by definition kill competition and government infrastructure which gives large more established firms numerous unfair advantages.
In a free and competitive market there would be far more vendors offering a far wider range of niche roles to choose from. Furthermore the existence of numerous diverse competitors would pressure all firms to be more accepting of all types of customers. This is not to mention the harm the state has done by perpetuating heterosexual monogamous marriages as the official norm, and using its influence to make alternatives suspect. A society where relationships are defined by individuals rather than the state, would have a far messier array of arrangements.
We should fight government interventions which empower bigots by killing competition, and those that privilege heterosexuality, as an alternative to supporting interventions that only mitigate the effects of these. Furthermore, while boycotts are part of the way a free society fights bigoted business practices, statewide boycotts like those imposed on Indiana have the tragic effect of harming business people who do not support discrimination, including LGBT business owners and employees. Boycotts targeting specific firms lack this problem, as does selectively patronizing queer-friendly firms.
Meanwhile the Wiccan Community is hoping the new law will increase their freedom to enjoy group-marriages, recreational drugs and public nudity. One can only hope. In the meantime, let’s remember the state makes institutional prejudice worse. Any fight against bigotry should start there.