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Equal rights (and cake) for all

| Sunday, February 23, 2014

In “You can’t make me sell a cake,” published in The Observer on Thursday, Mr. Raymond Michuda disagreed with the results of a recent lawsuit and argued that “it should be perfectly acceptable to refuse to sell a gay couple a wedding cake.” Mr. Michuda viewed the wedding cake case as a violation of property rights because the government is forcing someone to sell a product against his or her will. However, this framework is flawed in its focus on the product instead of the customers. The legal action was not about forcing a business to sell cakes (the business was already doing that), but rather about mandating that a business treat its customers equally regardless of their sexual orientation.

The bakery owners cited religious beliefs as the reason they refused to sell to the gay couple. However, freedom of religion does not give a person the right to discriminate against other human beings. Selling a product to someone you disagree with does not violate your right to practice your religion.

Fifty years ago, many businesses refused to serve African-Americans under the guise of religious belief, and I think everyone should agree that that sort of prejudice was on the wrong side of history. The Equal Rights Act outlawed discrimination in the public sphere on the basis of race, sex, religion and ethnicity, and it reinforced our 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. I believe it is past time this protection was extended to the LGBTQ community at the federal level, but let me to return to Mr. Michuda’s argument.

Mr. Michuda asserts, “It is not the job of the government to legislate morality, and the very action of doing so is immoral in itself.” I do agree that government has no place in legislating what people can and cannot believe. However, that is a completely different issue than the government’s role in how its citizens treat each other. Here’s a basic example: It’s illegal to drive drunk, for obvious moral reasons. Laws punish and deter certain harmful actions in order to protect human beings. In the same vein, anti-discrimination laws exist to protect citizens from harmful treatment.

Mr. Michuda is bluntest in the paragraph where he states, “So if someone doesn’t want to sell a gay couple a cake, fine. It’s not the end of the world. No harm done. Grow up and go to a different bakery instead of trying to destroy someone’s livelihood just because they don’t support your lifestyle.” Yes, buying cake seems like a trivial matter. Except, as I’ve said, this case is less about the physical cake and more about equality. There is serious “harm done” in setting a precedent where businesses and individuals can refuse to provide services to gay couples because of who they are, and it is callous to tell people to “grow up” and silently accept discrimination. Allowing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation relegates LGBTQ people second-class citizen status, without the rights and protections afforded to everyone else.

Furthermore, a person’s sexual orientation is not a “lifestyle.” Do straight people have “heterosexual lifestyles?” People in the LGBTQ community have lives, and part of those lives includes the people they love — just like everyone else. And, like everyone else, they deserve the right to buy cakes, have weddings and live without the shadow of bigotry.

Michelle McCarthy
Pasquerilla West Hall
Feb. 21

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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