Friday, November 30, 2007

Time to Sue?

A couple of days back, I mentioned the Alaska Airlines special discount for gay people. WorldNetDaily reports on one straight person who expressed his disapproval about being discriminated against--and the email response from Alaska Airlines was a vulgar expression that I won't repeat here.

A reader asks: "Isn't this discrimination based on sexual orientation a basis for suit?" Well, to my knowledge, there is no federal law banning discrimination by private companies in the provision of services based on sexual orientation. But there are some state and local bans on it, such as the Seattle measure that the ACLU used to sue a print job owner because she refused to print same-sex wedding invitations. I don't know all the details on how a city ordinance applies to a national firm offering discriminatory pricing on a web site, but it would be amusing to see some straight people who live in Seattle file suit against Alaska Airlines demanding that they stop.

You understand, I have very little sympathy for laws that tell private firms with whom they have to transact business--but full application of stupid laws sometimes gets the message across to the stupid people that advocate them. Such public accommodations laws are certainly constitutional, and part of a long English common law tradition. I just consider these a very questionably necessary governmental action that imposes unnecessarily on private property rights. I really don't think that the government should be telling consenting adults what they should be doing on private property, and it shouldn't matter if that's employment or sodomy.

I make one exception on this: blacks were the victims of widespread state imposed private business discrimination for many decades. If you find this surprising--that the government actually ordered private businesses to discriminate, read Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) for details. Similar discrimination was imposed on interstate bus companies as well into the 20th century. In 1964, you could make a good case that the Civil Rights Act was necessary to break a pattern that had been imposed by state laws, and aggravated what was a widespread, popular, and natural discriminatory practice. (Yes, "natural," in the same sense that Granola, cholera, and death in childbirth are "natural." Natural doesn't make it good.) I'm not sure that the argument for this is all that strong today--and I've never found the argument for all the other groups that are now protected by these public accommodation laws all that persuasive.

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