Discrimination, fairness, and making comparisons

2012-01-30 18:31

So there’s this guy in Tennessee, part of their legislature. He says stupid stuff, like claiming that it’s virtually impossible to transmit HIV through heterosexual sex (not true).

A restaurant refused him service because of this. Some people are trying to spin this as being hostile to the religious beliefs of Catholics (he apparently is one), but this is not reasonable; the Catholic Church does not teach that HIV is only spread by gays, for instance.

There’s a lot of questions here. Is it permissible for restaurants to refuse people service based on something other than health risks, ability to pay, and so on? Everyone seems to agree that refusing service to black people because they’re black is not-okay. Religions, probably also.

Public behavior, though, gets into a different category. Clearly you can refuse someone service based on bad behavior they’ve engaged at within your facility before, and I think most people would expect this to extend to things like, say, personal clashes with staff. If a host refused to seat someone who had, say, previously beaten up a member of the host’s family, it might seem a bit weird, but it’s clearly not a civil rights violation.

And that’s the thing. The restaurant’s behavior may be annoying, and you might think it’s wrong, but I don’t think it’s a civil rights violation. The odious behaviors the Senator has engaged in are not membership in a protected class, they’re consciously chosen decisions to do things — and very harmful things at that!

Honestly, I think it’s sorta cool. The chances are that at least one person will die as a result of someone believing the very bad medical advice our hero has given the world; I mean, people do assume that Senators don’t just make up stupid stuff, or cite to advice columns from the 1980s as evidence about medical claims.

Fundamentally, I don’t see anything wrong with this that wouldn’t also be wrong with refusing to host the KKK or some other group whose bigotry is further from the mainstream’s comfort zone. It’s still bigotry, it’s still destructive of society, and I am glad to see people refusing to pretend that it’s normal or acceptable.

Peter Seebach

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Comment

  1. So are they kicking him out for his actions, his words, or his attitude? If he is threatening the employees or patrons, that’s one thing. If he just has a head full of wrong ideas, or espouses unpopular ideas, that’s something else. I could imagine the owner of a restaurant thinking that gay people have their heads full of wrong ideas. And I wouldn’t want that restaurant owner throwing gay people out even if they espouse those ideas. Or even if a gay couple is kissing.

    If I had a restaurant, I’d let any bigot in the door, so long as (s)he doesn’t bother the other patrons.

    Dave Leppik · 2012-01-31 16:12 · #

  2. As I understand it, for actions — just mostly for actions that were taken somewhere else.

    If someone had, say, taken action to deny my friends medical care, I would feel pretty justified refusing to serve him. I would think the justification would survive even if it weren’t my personal friends affected.

    In short, it’s not what he thinks, it’s what he does about it — acts in ways which harm people. If he wants to sit around thinking that HIV is caused by Martians or gays, that’s fine; if he starts telling people that HIV is caused by gays, and that straight sex doesn’t spread it, that’s no longer fine.

    seebs · 2012-01-31 17:18 · #

  3. Hrm. It’s an interesting question, and is essentially one of whose rights take priority, the customer’s to be served, to the owner’s to deny service. I would come down on the owner’s side most of the time.

    The other good example I can think of is the myriad of clashes over breastfeeding in different establishments lately. Some restaurant owners have asked patrons to leave, and it’s been a whole Thing. Similar question, but based on an action committed on the premises instead of elsewhere.

    I feel like I was going somewhere with this, but it’s after midnight and I forgot.

    — AshtaraSilunar · 2012-02-01 00:09 · #

  4. I’m of the opinion that ‘discriminating’ against individuals is usually okay as long as it’s based on the actual actions or behavior of the individual and not on some arbitrary category the individual can be placed within.

    When it comes to a corner case like the KKK example, the distinction I hold here is: This person has CHOSEN to associate themselves with an organization that has a well known public image and set of behaviors. If they make that choice to be labeled along with a threat to society, then they’ve consented to being treated like a threat to society.

    People generally don’t get the opportunity to consent to their skin color, sex, orientation, gender, etc. That’s typically a production time determination (with sometimes a operational modifier due to deployment environment factors or a consequence of third party interference).

    — Amy · 2012-02-03 00:58 · #

 
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