by Tommy Gagliano
The gay wedding cake controversy strikes again – only this time it’s about a farmer, not a baker. The city of East Lansing, MI has banned Catholic farmer Steve Tennes from selling his produce at the city farmers market because of his stance on same-sex marriage. Tennes is the owner of Country Mill Farms, a property that he sometimes uses to host weddings. He was asked on Facebook if he hosts gay weddings as well, to which he said no, explaining that he did not wish to use his property to promote behavior that goes against his religious beliefs. Upon discovering this post, the city of East Lansing informed Tennes that he could not sell his produce at the farmers market. Tennes is fighting back by suing the city of East Lansing, claiming that it is discriminating against him based on his religion. Furthermore, he claims that the city has no jurisdiction over what he does on his property since it is in Charlotte, not East Lansing.
Regardless of who you believe is in the right and who you believe is in the wrong in this situation, there are a few things that must be acknowledged. First of all, both parties are committing acts of discrimination – Tennes on the basis of sexual orientation, and East Lansing on the basis of religion. Second of all, both parties believe that what they are doing is morally right. Steve Tennes believes that same-sex marriage is a sin. From this opinion, he does not want to be an accomplice in sinful behavior. The city believes that same-sex marriage is no different than marriage between a man and a woman, and that discrimination such as the kind practiced by Tennes should be discouraged as much as possible. It is very important to understand this. Neither party is “evil.” They just have different ways of looking at things.
The biggest difference between the two sides is that Tennes is an individual who owns a private business, whereas the city of East Lansing is a government. Discrimination by an individual and discrimination by a government are two completely different animals. If someone owns a business, they should have the right to deny service to whoever they want for whatever reason they want. It is their goods, their service, or, in Tennes’ case, their property.
If someone owned a restaurant and decided they did not want to sell their food to black people, for example, they should have every right to do so. Even though it is not morally right, doing immoral things is not against the law. It would be a very poor business decision, however. Not only are they turning away a significant percentage of potential customers, but plenty of people will no longer go to the restaurant because of their racist policies. They would go out of business very quickly, unless they changed their stance on black customers. That’s the beauty of capitalism. As Dr. Thomas Sowell would say, “Capitalism knows only one color: that color is green.”
However, discrimination that comes from the government is different. The purpose of government, according to the Declaration of Independence, is to secure the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This applies to all citizens, because, of course, “all men are created equal”. Therefore, everyone must be treated equally by federal and local governments. Additionally, the 1st, 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th amendments all work to ensure that all US citizens are treated equally by the government. The first amendment is particularly relevant in this case, since it protects citizens’ right to practice whatever religion they want. These amendments, however, only protect you from the government. In other words, the government cannot deny you access to public services on the basis of race, sex, religion, etc. However, an individual CAN deny you service on the basis of one or more of those identities.
Many people probably see scenarios like this and think “Good, he’s a homophobic asshole. He deserves it.” While that may be true, I beg you to please look at the bigger picture. Steve Tennes owns his farm. He should be able to do whatever he wants with that farm. The city of East Lansing does not have the authority to force him to provide service to certain people, nor do they have the power to discriminate against him if he refuses to do so. The worst part is that this is just one of many examples of the government overstepping its boundaries. I find this trend terrifying, and if you value your freedom, you should too.