“It’s my business and I’ll deny if I want to,
Deny if I want to,
Deny if I want to,
You would deny too if Ayn Rand indoctrinated you.”
-GOP Remix of the ’60s, Leslie Gore classic “It’s My Party.”
Have you ever heard this song? If not, I’m surprised, being that it has become a hit in some conservative states. As a matter of fact, the song is so popular, that some presidential candidates have incorporated the tune into their political platforms. One such candidate, Senator Rand Paul, has a peculiar history regarding property rights: in 2013, he claimed to support the passage of the Civil Rights Act, but had some reservations regarding the right for a business to deny customers based on personal preferences.
To be more specific, Rand Paul considers an individual’s business to be an extension of their household—a place where discrimination is permitted. In a household, I can refuse to permit anyone to enter, even if my rationale is a general dislike of African Americans—unless, of course, I have an enforceable warrant out for my arrest, a judge has approved a search of my house, or I’m under investigation for suspected terrorist activities. The point being: the household is a location of virtually absolute autonomy.
However, businesses, privately held entities that are a part of the public sphere, aren’t necessarily classified in the same category as private households. For one, legal precedent has established a clear set of rules relating to the “right to refuse”—jurisprudence that, for the most part, creates legal parameters for an individual’s right to discriminate. But, let’s return to the subject as it pertains to the policy platform of Rand Paul. In 2013, Rand Paul said the following statement in response to questions about his stance on the Civil Rights Act:
“I think if you have a two-story office and you hire someone who’s handicapped, it might be reasonable to let him have an office on the first floor rather than the government saying you have to have a $100,000 elevator. And I think when you get to solutions like that, the more local the better, and the more common sense the decisions are, rather than having a federal government make those decisions.”
Basically, according to Rand Paul, the federal government’s enforcement mechanisms are overburdensome, and therefore should be rolled back. Nonetheless, the seemingly troublesome burden placed on the private business man, i.e., Paul’s example of a businessman having to install a wheel chair ramp for a disabled hire, is steeped in conservative hyperbole. For one, the purposes of the Civil Rights Act were largely centered on Southern racial discrimination in the form of Jim Crow Laws, so having an aversion, as Ron Paul does, to the policy intentions of this act may have imperceptible racial underpinnings. The cloak of business rights is simply another way for bigoted individuals to restrict civil liberties, particularly against subjugated minority groups.
More recently, discrimination has been directed toward individuals of a certain sexual orientation. The “Religious Restoration Act,” a statute instituted in the State of Indiana, aimed to, before the modification disallowing discrimination based on sexual orientation (due to public outcry), permitted business owners to deny patrons based on religious beliefs (19 other states have followed suit)—hence the name “Religious Restoration Act.” (As if Indiana wasn’t already religious enough.) It was largely a reactionary piece of legislation: the two court decisions pertaining to the topic of business discrimination, i.e., the two cake cases, drew two contrasting distinctions:
1) The first of the two cases rejected the argument of the anti-gay cake buyer due to the cake representing a point, rather than an identity.
2) The second case rejected the argument of the bakery owner because the refusal of service was directed at a gay couple due to their identity, and the cake was never in fact made, it was only discussed (so a point of dispute, as in, for example, a design, never came to fruition.)
One should note, however, that the protections of the Civil Rights Act do not extend to sexual orientation—but this, in no way, justifies discriminatory behavior from a commonsense moral standpoint: just because something isn’t law doesn’t warrant restricting others’ freedoms to participate in the market. Freedom to discriminate is hardly freedom at all, especially as it relates to a person’s inseparable identity. One can’t simply stop being gay, nor can one simply stop being African American—identity cannot be altered akin to a person’s behavior.
My question is: how do these business owners identify gay patrons? Would it be based on a person’s mannerisms, gestures, tone of voice, apparel, demeanor? Would you assume that two males ordering a pizza together, with low-fat gorgonzola, was a sign of homosexuality? You see, that’s precisely the problem: it’s the definition of prejudice to believe that individuals who identify as LGBT all act or look the same way. In any case, stereotypes are continuously undermined: many homosexuals are indistinguishable from your everyday football watching, macho guy. (Anybody remember Rock Hudson?!) How can a reasonable distinction be drawn? By the way, if you place a sticker on a window refusing service to homosexuals, you’re restricting the way in which other people may authentically live their lives. What’s more, you are imposing your own way of life on someone else, which is exactly what you’re trying to stop other people from doing to you. How in the hell is that reasonable? It’s the ultimate double standard. Either way—whether it’s based on a person’s behavior, or in the event of a person hiding their true self—these are both lucid instances of a restriction of freedom.
Now, I assume that a belief stricken, discriminatory business owner may respond with: “But, if I let a homosexual into my business, they’re infringing on my freedom.” Well, that may be true in a warped sense; however, a business functions in the public sphere, whereby it—unless it is involved in some unusual sector—caters to the general public. And, as mentioned earlier, while you do in fact have the right to discriminate within the confines of your home, that is not a place where you can legally conduct business, unless, of course, you obtain a permit—which would, therefore, turn it into a legitimate business, thus, subduing your right to discriminate. If your doors are open for business, it’s in invitation, plain and simple, to purchase goods in your establishment.
In the end, both racial and sexual business discrimination, to numerous conservatives, is intended to restrict the freedoms of undesirable minorities. And often times, the discrimination stems from the Old Testament—you know, the book that also permitted stoning homosexuals to death. Sadly, conservative presidential candidates, like Rand Paul, accept this argument on the basis of a person’s freedom to deny. But, as mentioned earlier, the right to refuse is a strategically employed euphemism for the freedom to discriminate. Whatever the justification, Rand Paul’s stance on the Civil Rights Act is dangerous, especially if he were to become president with a sizable majority in both chambers. This obsession to discriminate should frighten the average political observer: Indiana’s law—and Ron Paul’s stance for that matter—should be perceived as a resurgence of the Jim Crow South, just in another insidious form.