Prop 5 would provide force, not finesse

By JOANN PANTAGESMarch 19, 2012 

Two stories I recently came across highlight exercises of freedom that may make some uncomfortable, annoyed or even angry. In the first story, a man refused a woman his services because she didn't agree with him about same-sex marriage. In the second, it was a woman who refused her services and this time to two people. They disagreed with her views on same-sex marriage.

In both cases the services being denied were not unique and those who were denied service went elsewhere. In both cases the suppliers were owners of the business. In both cases the "aggrieved" parties believed gay marriage was a right and anyone who thought otherwise was a bigot. In both cases those who disagreed with gay marriage did so because of religious convictions.

Did either of the business owners in these stories do something terribly wrong? Is refusing to provide someone your services so wrong, so egregious, it should be unlawful?

Remember, we aren't discussing health care, or education, or any other legally mandated and protected service. Take time and think, because your answer will tell you how to vote on Proposition 5 on the April 3 ballot.

Let's return to the stories.

In the first instance the man involved was a hairdresser in New Mexico. He is a homosexual and refused to cut Gov. Susana Martinez's hair because she supports a traditional definition of marriage.

In the second instance the woman was a photographer, also in New Mexico. Via an email exchange, this photographer explained to a lesbian woman, who'd inquired into her services, that she did not photograph same-sex "weddings" but thanked the prospective client for her interest.

Similar actions, different motivations. Was the gay hairdresser wrong to do what he did? What about the religious photographer?

Similar situations, different responses. The governor ignored the slight and, after trying once more to make an appointment, found another hairdresser. The bride found a new photographer, who did a great job and cost less. Afterward, she sued the first photographer under a law similar to our Proposition 5.

The New Mexico Human Rights Commission found for the bride. There were no actual damages, so the photographer was only ordered to pay the complainant's attorney and court fees. The bill came to more than $6,000.

I understand everyone's motivation. I can support all the actions, save one. I don't think the bride should have sued. She was offended, not injured.

We claim to believe in a diverse, vibrant culture, where all have rights. Well, metaphorically speaking, these rights are constantly jostling and bumping into each other. Sometimes we end up rubbing each other the wrong way. It's annoying and it might be tempting to think, "There ought to be a law." Still, law's proper role is to stop us from injuring one another, not from offending one another.

A "no" vote on Proposition 5 is not a bigoted vote. It is a vote to protect a multidimensional, multi-viewed society.

Anchorage isn't the same city it was 30 or 40 years ago, and if you think it is, you haven't been paying attention. We shouldn't try force where finesse has been so successful. No amount of coercion or force has ever changed a heart but it has created enemies where there were none.


Joann Pantages lives in Anchorage.

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