Earlier this month, a Canadian gay couple demanded a refund from a jewellery store that had been helping the couple design rings for their engagement. They did so after discovering that the owners of the store had displayed a sign that promoted the traditional conception of marriage between a man and a woman. The store has agreed to refund the deposit paid by the couple.
It’s interesting to reflect on this situation given the recent string of anti-discrimination cases against businesses that have refused to serve gay customers. The case of the Canadian jewellery store is the same issue in reverse. In this instance there was no refusal of service, there was refusal of purchase. But there is no law to deal with this unambiguous case of religious discrimination; no tribunal to which the business owners can take the customer for refusing to buy their products.
Nor should there be. That would be absurd. And there’s the rub: the absurdity is directly proportionate to the absurdity of allowing customers to take businesses to court over refusal of service. Voluntary economic exchange is a two-way street. Both the buyer and seller are entitled to take any factor they like into account in deciding whether to engage in the exchange, including the political and religious beliefs of the individuals with whom they are seeking to engage in trade.
The Canadian couple who demanded a refund are entitled to do so. But neither the jeweller nor the customer should be able to coerce the other to engage in economic exchange. It really is that simple.