If I approached ten random people on the street and asked them whether “relationships should be consensual,” ten out of ten would likely answer yes. I mean, what’s the alternative? People should be able to force themselves on each other? It’s a no-brainer.
Yet, if I asked the same ten people whether “a business should be able to deny service on the basis of race or sexual orientation,” seven or eight would probably answer no.
How do we reconcile that? Do we believe relationships should be governed by mutual consent, or not?
In the wake of Arizona governor Jan Brewer’s veto of S.B. 1062, a bill which by some accounts would have expanded the freedom of association in that state, we do well to consider the true nature of Jim Crow. Today, we all agree that the laws which emerged at the state and local level in the century following the Civil War mandating racial segregation clearly violated individual rights. But what about those laws made them a violation of rights? Was it the fact that they discriminated on the basis of race? Or was it the fact that they kept individuals from utilizing their judgment?
By replacing Jim Crow laws with anti-discrimination laws, all we did was change whom the state victimizes. Instead of mandating segregation, we mandated integration. We went from forcing people to abstain from relationships to forcing them to engage in them.
Who speaks for consent? Why have we never tried letting people choose whom they enter into relationships with, and whom they do not? How did we solve the offense of Jim Crow by inverting its trespass?
Arizona’s S.B. 1062 aims too narrowly, and at the wrong target. While businesses should be able to deny service to customers whose needs conflict with the owner’s religious conscience, that stands as only one example of a broader principle which must be applied universally. All relationships should be consensual. Indeed, the case for gay marriage rests upon that very notion. Rather than focus on whether a gay couple should be able to marry or whether a vendor should be able to deny them service, let’s broaden our consideration to whether individuals ought to define their own relationships in all contexts.
No one should be able to force themselves on someone else, ever, under any circumstances. Embracing that maxim and applying it to public policy would settle many of these divisive social issues.