President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice sided with a Colorado Christian bakery on Sept. 7 who had refused to bake a cake for a gay couple several years ago. This has brought about a resurfacing of the issue central to this story — are businesses compelled to serve customers of differing viewpoints or lifestyles?
In 2012, Jack Phillips, the baker and owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, told gay couple David Mullins and Charlie Craig that his store’s policy was to deny service to same-sex couples based on his religious beliefs. Acting Solicitor General Jeff Wall argued that Phillips should be exempt from Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws because baking cakes is a form of “art,” according to Reuters. In this situation, there are two separate questions that come to my mind. Does Phillips have a right to refuse to bake a cake for Mullins and Craig? And, is it in his best interests as a business owner?
Some people are looking at this as a good thing, which it is, but for all the wrong reasons. Many choose to look at this issue in the context of religious liberty. When examined, this issue breaks down into being a matter of either a free or controlled market. Business owners should be permitted to deny services to customers for any reason. Bankers can refuse to loan money to individuals they do not think can pay back. Artists can decline drawing scenes they do not wish to depict. Scriptwriters are not compelled by their readers to create endings that appease audiences (If they are, I would like a refund for “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay”).
This same logic should be applied to the situation at hand. The bakery should not be forced to serve the newlywed couple. There was no contractual agreement between the two, which means that Phillips can deny his services to whomever he wishes. This is not without consequences, however.
While the bakery has the right to deny its services to its customers, should it? Of course not. Anyone who has taken even the most basic economic courses knows that the goal of all businesses is to maximize profits while minimizing expenses. If Masterpiece Cakeshop wishes to be a successful business, it must meet the demands of its consumers, or else lose them to competitors.
Artists may wish to draw pictures of dogs, but if customers really want to see paintings of cats, then the artists must conform to the market if they expect to have any career as an artist. Sure, the artists can turn away anyone who wants to commission paintings of cats, but they will not turn around any profit for their time whatsoever. The same goes for Phillips. He is alienating part of his market by forcing them to go elsewhere with their money, which in turn gives his competitors an advantage over him.
This also damages the reputation of Masterpiece Cakeshop; denying services to gay couples is bound to irritate other customers, who may decide to take their business elsewhere. Furthermore, there is no inherent gain or benefit to refusing to bake gay couples’ cakes. The couple will marry each other, and will have a cake at their wedding. One baker refusing to bake that cake will not change the course of events.
While there may not have been tangible gains, Phillips has seen considerable material losses. Since the incident, his family’s income has decreased by nearly 40 percent, and he has lost most of his employees, according to The Washington Post. While it is always admirable for anyone to stand by their beliefs and values, business owners that follow in Phillips’ footsteps will have to do so knowing that it may eventually hurt their wallets.