Discriminating against homosexual persons
By Matt C. Abbott
In light of the recent story (click here) about a Christian florist who faces significant fines for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, I asked Father John Trigilio Jr., author, theologian and president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, to comment on the moral difference between unjust and just discrimination against homosexual persons.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (no. 2358):
- The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
- Never deny, seldom affirm, always distinguish. This mediaeval axiom was well known and employed by the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas. We need to use that same sound reasoning today. The natural moral law, as well as civil law (human positive law), makes a distinction in qualifying unjust discrimination from discrimination in general. Discriminate is defined in the dictionary as a verb from the Latin word discriminare, to differentiate; to make a distinction; to discern differences.
Unjust discrimination is the denial of fair treatment in a situation where a decision should be based on personal merit or need, or is a denial of a human right. Hence, as a consumer, I can go to any merchant of my choice and either pay the price they request, or I'm free to not buy from them. I discriminate between stores and merchants. It is neither unfair nor unjust to avoid certain stores since it is my right to shop where I want. I may like the prices or the location or the customer service of one store over another. That is making a discriminating choice. It is neither immoral nor unjust, and it is not illegal.
When I'm in a store and choose to go to one sales clerk over another, it may be based on the number of people in the clerk's line, the clerk's efficiency or even just his or her smile or professional look. If someone avoids a clerk or store owner purely based on his or her race – thatwould be unjust discrimination. It is immoral and sinful. If, however, I refuse to patronize a store or business that supports abortion by contributing to Planned Parenthood, that is considered moral discrimination. I choose not to do business with someone who openly subsidizes or supports something evil or immoral.
Marriage is a natural institution. It predates the church and the state. Neither one can redefine it. It is therefore not unjust discrimination to boycott or refuse commercial business in a situation that openly defies my moral and religious principles. Marriage is between one man and one woman. The florist, caterer, wedding coordinator and photographer have no moral obligation to participate in a ceremony or occasion that openly and publicly contradicts their religious and moral values.
If a customer purchases flowers, it is irrelevant if he or she has a homosexual or heterosexual orientation. Providing flowers for a gay wedding, however, is a public statement. Likewise, a merchant would be in his or her right to refuse to be a part of a polygamous or incestuous marriage even if either were allowed by civil law. Morally speaking, the state cannot change the essence or substance of marriage and allow same-sex weddings any more than it can allow multiple spouses or a brother and sister or parent and child to marry. If any government would allow such, merchants would have the moral right to refuse service and thus avoid violating their conscience. Unjust discrimination is when a merchant refuses to do business with a customer because of his or her race, gender or religion.
The context is as important as the subjects involved. There are neither homosexual nor heterosexual human beings. There are human beings. Human beings are persons and persons have human and civil rights. Some human beings have a homosexual orientation or inclination [due to the effects of original sin], while most human beings have a heterosexual orientation. Any and all sexual activity outside of marriage is immoral and sinful. Hence, fornication is the sin of unmarried people of any orientation having sex with each other. It used to be that hotel and motel owners could and were expected to refuse to rent a single room to an unmarried couple. They could not refuse a couple because they were African-American or Latino, but if the couple were not husband and wife, they were allowed to demand separate accommodations. That was ethical and permissible discrimination.
The church has no authority to redefine matrimony or holy orders – or any sacrament, for that matter. It does discriminate by divine law that only one man and one woman may marry, and only baptized males can be ordained. In neither case is it unjust discrimination. Laity do not lose their religious liberty or freedom in the market place, either. Anyone opposed to same-sex marriages is not being unjust or immoral, for they are merely following their religious and moral conscience. Is not a dress code in a restaurant and other public places a form of discrimination? Yes, but it is fair and just.
If the state does as it has in the past with legalizing abortion, there will be those who wish to do what the law allows. Any and all citizens are free to refuse to do what is legal if it simultaneously violates the natural moral law and/or the divine positive law of God. That elderly florist may be obliged to sell a bouquet of flowers to any customer, gay or straight, but she is not obliged to give public approval and support to gay weddings if it violates her moral and religious values/principles.
What needs to be avoided are the hateful, nasty, and pejorative epithets on either side of the issue. Denial can be done with respect and discretion, and must be done with charity. Obviously, some businesses have no option. Medical treatment, food, clothing and shelter are basic human needs, and every human being, regardless of sexual orientation, must be given access to what is needed.
We are not discussing pharmacies, hospitals and restaurants, but a purely discretional expense: flowers. Non-essential businesses have a right to abstain from certain transactions that would violate the moral and religious tenets of the owner. This can be done properly, politely and prudently.