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in defense of boycotts

July 23, 2012

In a recent article in the Atlantic, Jonathan Merritt (no relation) asks, Do we really want a country where people won’t do commerce with those who have beliefs different than their own? Personally, I’d say the answer is yes, especially if those beliefs translate into active discrimination against, and arguably harm to, minority segments of the population.

In this case, I think marriage is a civil right that should be available to all adult citizens equally; and as such, it shouldn’t be subject to the whims of the majority (or anyone else for that matter) according to the founding principles of the Constitution (see esp. section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment). But marriage isn’t just a civil right, it’s a legal contract that confers certain privileges, immunities, rights, and benefits to committed couples; and in my mind, denying same-sex couples equal access to those privileges, immunities, rights, and benefits merely because of their sexual orientation and/or gender is as ridiculous and as unconstitutional as denying interracial couples the same thing.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t prevented states from aggressively passing laws and constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships, effectively stripping same-sex couples of many (sometimes all) of the benefits awarded with those legal partnerships, such as the right to be there in the hospital and make important medical decisions for an incapacitated partner, federally protected family leave time to in the event of a partner’s illness, receiving retirement plans and life insurance benefits for a deceased partner, etc. And considering the wide-reaching implications of this kind of monetary support, which can ultimately take concrete form in the shape of laws and amendments targeting and negatively impacting members of the LGBTQ community, I think it’s entirely appropriate for individuals who are against this kind of discrimination to boycott organizations that actively promote and support it.

I don’t think it’s a particularly effective or practical strategy mind you; but I don’t think it should be discouraged, either. For one, things like boycotts can at least help to shine a light onto specific social and/or political issues, giving them more media attention than they might otherwise receive, and expanding public awareness in the process. And for those who are against gay marriage and upset people are boycotting Chick-Fil-A, that’s the risk you take when you have a business and publicly express your anti-gay marriage position, as well as donate a portion of your profits to ‘pro-family’ groups that ultimately help to lobby for laws and amendments that discriminate against the LGBTQ community.

Actions have consequences. And it’s to be expected that some people might not be very supportive of certain views and forms of political advocacy — especially when they’re aimed at negatively impacting a specific minority group that’s historically been unable to effectively use the political process to insure fair treatment from the majority — and consequently, won’t want to give their money to companies or individuals who they know may use it to support the very things they’re fundamentally opposed to.

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