The New Mexico Human Rights Commission is fining a husband-wife team of Christian photographers $6000 dollars for refusing to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony. Read the full article if you want more background on this case. There are a couple of blog posts that touch on the subject at MarioBurgers and ThomasHawk. If you read the posts and comments, the opinions of the readers and authors seem to be split into two issues and three sides. Discrimination vs. Freedom of Choice from the angle of Christians, Gay Rights Activists and Business Owners. What immediately struck me is the rights (or lack of in this case) that a business owner has in refusing projects.
Religion vs. Gay Rights In This Case
In my interpretation of this case without knowing either party, it seems to have turned into playground mud-slinging between Christians and Gay Rights Activists. It’s obviously about someone who was disgruntled because they were refused service and that service provider may be hiding behind their religious convictions. This is NOT what I want to discuss here, nor do I want this to turn into a reincarnation of the situation. If it does, I’m going to whack you in the back of the head with Skeptic Magazine!
Freedom of Choice for Business
What I do want to touch on is the rights of a business to refuse the work requested from them. Should a business have this right? Thomas Hawk has used McDonalds as an analogy to provoke thought on the subject and to illustrate discrimination.
Should McDonalds be allowed to only serve white people if they wanted to?
I personally don’t think that’s a fair comparison. His example is an obvious civil rights issue and what he refers to is a simple product based business model. Common sense as a business owner should come into play in cases like that. What we have here is two people conducting a service based business. Some may think of photography as a product, but in all actuality the process of creating is more of a service with a end result which may be a product, digital or tangible. This holds true for web developers, designers, artists, ad agencies, etc. After the service process, there’s usually an extended relationship in negotiating rights, reviewing images and ordering prints and albums. After completion of the project there is usually a request for reprints, more rights negotiation and ultimately repeat business.
Most service based business require a much more intimate relationship with the client and one that may be used as an example of the quality and type of work as well as the clientele they choose to work with. I’m sure most web developers and designers, myself included, have been asked if they would develop a site for someone in the porn industry. I myself, without thought, turn the projects down for obvious reasons. However, if a project with that scope was accepted, and other existing or potential clients were aware, I’m sure there would be some loss of business from the industries I will do work and in some cases a loss of existing clients.
The ultimate question is, should the government and courts dictate who I choose to do business with? Absolutely not. That’s one of the luxuries of being self employed. I choose the work I’m comfortable with on a basis of project scope and if it will be good for future business. I often ask myself, do I want this kind of work in my portfolio? Will this client be hard to get along with? Is there any conflict in moral and ethical beliefs? Does this client and project fit into my chosen target market? Is this client an honest person and will I have problems with him/her in the future? I don’t want the courts asking these questions for me.