Arizona Calligraphy Shop and Non-discrimination Laws

Here’s the news story: Court: Phoenix wedding invitation designers must serve LGBT customers. Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of Brush & Nib Studio, are evangelical Christians. “They filed a lawsuit against Phoenix in May 2016 challenging the part of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.” No gay couple has asked them for their services. They are filing the case preemptively.

I realize these two women are Evangelical, not Catholic. But from a Catholic point of view, there’s no moral requirement to refuse services to a same-sex wedding. The services provided are remote material cooperation with the same-sex marriage. The cake-baker, florist, calligrapher, wedding band, and caterers are not in charge of approving of any marital union. No one thinks that these persons or companies, by providing services, agree with the particular union in question, or that they support same-sex marriage. They are simply providing a paid service.

The argument of the calligraphers is that they are providing an artistic service, which is a personal self-expression, and that the law results in “compelled expression of speech.” But that seems a specious argument when the product is ordered by the customer, and can have a wide range of different expressions, chosen by the customer. No one thinks that the text written by the calligraphers is their own assertion.

What if a straight couple wants wedding invitations with Catholic or Orthodox expression on them, views with which the calligraphers disagree? Will they refuse the order? What if a business wants calligraphy making assertions about their products that the calligraphers think are untrue? “Come to the grand opening of the best bakery in town.” When a customer orders text to be written in calligraphy, the content of the text is attributable to the customer, not the calligrapher.

Thus, the text is not self-expression or forced speech. Rather, the artists have chosen to provide a service which involves accepting money for expressing the speech of their customers. And at that point, they have no right to refuse services based on the content of the speech. It is not their speech, but the speech of their customers. Similarly, if a work is created as a “work for hire”, the copyright goes to the person who paid for the speech, not the paid author.

“You can’t force me to express ideas with which I disagree!”
“But you freely chose to offer to the public the expression of their ideas in exchange for money.”

The service provider is expressing the ideas of the customer. The wedding band plays the songs requested by the couple. The caterer provides the food ordered by the customer. The florist provides the flowers chosen by the bride. And so on.

For this reason, companies and individuals have no real moral ground on which to base a refusal of services to same-sex weddings.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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