Soon after Donald Trump won the presidential election in November, it was widely reported that a number of prominent fashion designers were refusing to work with his wife, Melania Trump, because they do not approve of her husband’s politics.
In a word, they were practicing discrimination.
Designer Sophie Theallet, who dressed First Lady Michelle Obama, posted an open letter on her Twitter account stating,
As an independent fashion brand, we consider our voice an expression of our artistic and philosophical ideas. The Sophie Theallet brand stands against all discrimination and prejudice. Our runway shows, ad campaigns, and celebrity dressing have always been a celebration of diversity and a reflection of the world we live in.
As one who celebrates and strives for diversity, individual freedom, and respect for all lifestyles, I will not participate in dressing or associating in any way with the next First Lady. The rhetoric of racism, sexism, and xenophobia unleashed by her husband’s presidential campaign are incompatible with the shared values we live by.
I encourage my fellow designers to do the same.
Designer Derek Lam stated,
While I have incredible respect for our country’s political institutions, I find it challenging to be personally involved in dressing the new first lady. I would rather concentrate my energies on efforts towards a more just, honorable, and a mutually respectful world. I don’t know Melania Trump personally, so I don’t wish my comments to seem I am prejudging her personal values, but I really don’t see myself getting involved with the Trump presidency.
No liberals or progressives of note have criticized these blatant acts of discrimination based on the political beliefs held by these or other designers.
Recently, however, some other acts of discrimination have received a lot of media attention, especially in the LGBT community.
A gay man recently sued a funeral home in Mississippi for breach of contract and emotional distress, alleging that it refused to cremate his recently deceased partner because it did not “deal with their kind.”
John Zawadski and Robert Huskey met in 1965 in California. They settled in Picayune, Mississippi, in 1997, and soon after took advantage of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex unions nationwide. Less than two months later, Huskey’s health began to deteriorate and he moved into a nursing home. In 2016, his nephew made arrangements with a local funeral home to transport his uncle’s body from the nursing home to the funeral home for cremation and related services. After his uncle’s death, the nephew said “the nursing home contacted him and told him the funeral home ‘adamantly’ refused to provide services after learning through the paperwork that Huskey’s spouse was male.” Because the nursing home did not have a morgue on site, a frantic search ensued for another funeral home with an on-site crematorium. Although one was found about 90 miles away, the “turmoil and exigency” created by the funeral home “permanently marred the memory of Bob’s otherwise peaceful passing,” the lawsuit states. The lawsuit requests a jury trial and unspecified monetary damages.
A farmer in Michigan was recently banned from the East Lansing farmers’ market because he refused to host same-sex weddings at his orchard.
In 2014, Steve Tennes, owner of the Country Mill Orchard — which hosts a corn maze, birthday parties, weddings, and other events — denied the request of two lesbians to hold their wedding at the orchard because of his religious opposition to same-sex marriage. He referred the women to an orchard that held same-sex weddings, and they followed up on his suggestion the next year. But in 2016, after one of the women wrote a Facebook post discouraging people from doing business with Country Mill, Tennes ceased hosting weddings. He later changed his mind and expressed his traditional view about marriage on his farm’s Facebook page. East Lansing city officials then determined that his statements violated the city’s 1972 human-relations ordinance prohibiting discrimination and banned the Country Mill from participating in its farmers’ market. Tennes and his wife have in turn sued the city for religious discrimination in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The lawsuit says in part that the city “has no authority to enforce its ordinance based on Tennes’ religious beliefs and their impact on how he operates Country Mill.”
This is discrimination hypocrisy. When fashion designers refuse to serve Melania Trump because they don’t want to appear that they endorse her husband’s politics liberals are silent, but when others refuse to serve homosexuals because they don’t want to appear that they endorse their behavior liberals are vocally upset.
But there is enough discrimination hypocrisy to go around.
Conservatives generally don’t have a problem with religious people who discriminate against others on the basis of sexual orientation or sex identity, but at the same time they generally support laws against discrimination based on other things such as race, religion, national origin, color, sex, or age.
Here is a typical example. In the midst of a post regarding fashion designers and Melania Trump on National Review’s blog, The Corner, conservative Veronique de Rugy said,
I guess this is my chance to say that I thought Gary Johnson was absolutely wrong during the campaign to argue that the government should force a Jewish baker to bake a Nazi cake. While I agree with Johnson that there is a role for government to address a widespread refusal of service for things that are central to human flourishing — such as a business refusing to provide everyday food, medical services, or housing to a person due to race, religion, sexual orientation, or political views — it is my impression, however, that in spite of what some are claiming, there is no such widespread discrimination against gay marriages that justifies the government’s intervention.
Since both liberals and conservatives seem to have trouble with the concept of discrimination, and because even Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson is confused about it, perhaps it is time to review the libertarian perspective on discrimination. Here are twelve maxims.
- Discrimination is not a dirty word. It simply involves choosing between options.
- Everyone discriminates all day every day. Ordering a coke instead of an iced tea, buying a Ford instead of a Chevy, wearing a black outfit instead of a blue one, or patronizing Wendy’s instead of McDonalds are acts of discrimination.
- Discrimination is a crime in search of a victim. Every real crime needs a tangible victim with measurable damages.
- There is no “right to service.” In a free society, business owners have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason on any basis.
- What the government terms “public accommodations” are still private businesses. Just because they serve the public by offering to sell them goods or services, it doesn’t follow that they should have to accept all members of the public, as the post office does.
- It doesn’t matter why discrimination takes place. That discrimination might be due to someone’s race, creed, religion, sex, color, age, national origin, political ideology, IQ, physical appearance, marital status, socio-economic status, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation is irrelevant.
- It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about acts of discrimination. That discrimination is thought to be unfair, illogical, irrational, subjective, capricious, nonsensical, unreasonable, sexist, homophobic, or stupid, or based on stereotypes, ignorance, prejudice, hate, bigotry, or racism is of no consequence.
- If customers can legally discriminate against businesses for any reason and on any basis, then businesses ought to likewise be able to discriminate against customers.
- Discriminating against someone is not aggressing against him. Since no one is entitled to any particular job, apartment, house, good, or service, he has no recourse if he is denied any of those things.
- Refusing to sell a product or provide a service has everything to do with property rights. Since no potential customer has a claim on the property or the time of any business owner, he has no legal recourse if the owner of the property refuses to do business with him.
- To outlaw discrimination is to outlaw freedom of thought. In a free society, everyone has the right to think what he wants to think about anyone else and choose to discriminate on the basis of those thoughts.
- Discrimination means freedom. A free society must include the freedom to discriminate against any individual or group for any reason and on any basis.
It goes without saying that anyone should have the same right to refuse to cremate a dead body or host a wedding — or bake a cake, sell flowers, or provide photography for a same-sex wedding — as fashion designers have to refuse to serve Melania Trump.