As Americans celebrated Independence Day, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled that the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, A Portland area bakery, owes $135,000 in damages for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. This is insanity! There is absolutely no justification for the claimants in this matter to be awarded almost three times the average American’s annual income simply for refusing to bake a cake.
Homophobia is ugly, as is all discrimination. These bakery owners are bigots, and I have no problem calling them such. Indeed, I am thrilled to see that the bad publicity from their discrimination has resulted in a loss of business for them. This should be the primary way our society deals with such bigotry.
Imposing outrageously steep penalties for such discrimination only legitimizes the false narrative that it is the discriminators who are the real victims. Worse, it forces those of us who care about justice and personal freedom to come their defense. These are the last people we should ever want to defend. Imposing exorbitant and arbitrary penalties not only violates traditional notions of due process (and commonsense), it also gives the bigots something to rally around. In this case, making an example out of the bigoted wrongdoers shows us just how draconian the state’s perverted sense of justice is. In an obvious effort to inflict financial damage on the bakery, the state has unveiled itself as nothing more than a bully–and one whose efforts will ultimately be counterproductive in squashing discrimination.
Resistance to bigotry should take place in the realm of public opinion in the form of boycotts, denunciations, shaming, and educational outreach. This leaves no room for the homophobes to claim themselves as victims of state aggression. But now that the state has stepped in like the proverbial bull in a china shop, Sweet Cakes by Melissa gets to claim the mantle of Persecuted Christian denied its Constitutional rights.
We should also remember that the state itself has historically aided such bigotry, and thus can hardly be expected to fight it in any meaningful fashion. For its entire history, the state granted favorable status to heterosexual couples and looked the other way when violence was committed against gay Americans. Its politicians have routinely demonized homosexuality. Indeed, until recently, Barack Obama held the same position on same-sex marriage as did Mike Huckabee. Only overwhelming public opinion and a babbling Joe Biden forced him to take his newfound enlightened position on the issue.
Furthermore the state’s tangled web of zoning laws, licensing requirements and building codes greatly increases the cost and difficulty of starting bakeries and other small businesses. Through its smothering and regressive regulatory regime, the state severely limits the choices available to those looking for non-bigoted establishments to patronize. Imposing exorbitant fines on homophobes does not change this. Let’s instead fight homophobia first and foremost through voluntary means, in the court of public opinion. We are winning in this area, and the last thing we need is to grant despicable places like Sweet Cakes by Melissa victim-hood status.