As I’ve listened to the debate swirling around the issue of whether or not a business owner should be allowed to deny service to a gay person due to their religious convictions, I have to wonder if those supporting a policy of coerced association hold consistently to their stated principle. In other words, do they really believe a business must serve every individual who walks through the door without exception? Or do they really just oppose discrimination against those people whom they happen to like, or with whom they sympathize?

A little thought exercise will shed some light on this idea.

Imagine for a moment an Afghanistan war veteran named Sam owns a print shop. Sam happens to be gay. One day, a man walks through the door of the shop and announces he hails from the Westboro Baptist Church and plans to picket the military funeral of Sam’s former company commander. He wants Sam to print out 45 signs that read “God hates fags” for the picketers. Sam refuses and orders the Westboro member out of his shop.

So here’s the question for all of those morally outraged at those who don’t want to perform services for a gay customer: do you believe Sam should be legally forced to do business with the Westboro Baptist Church member?

If you answered no, perhaps you should rethink your support of the policy of forced association.

Let me make one thing clear up front. I do not approve of Christians refusing to do business with gay customers. If I owned a business, I would welcome gay customers with open arms. And black customers. And Native American Customers. And Hispanic customers – even if they didn’t happen to speak the best English. On the other hand, I would probably toss the piece of human debris hailing from the Westboro Baptist Church out on his ear.

But as repugnant as I find discriminating against gay customers, I find it more repugnant to put a gun to somebody’s head and demand that they serve them. And yes, before you ask, my stance on this would not change if you substitute black for gay. I fundamentally disagree with forcing people to associate.

My conscience would not allow me to print “God hates fags signs.” Most people would heartily agree with my moral stand and applaud as I tossed the Westboro Baptist Church member out on his butt. But if you support my right to refuse to do business with him, how can you oppose the right of that Christian florist to refuse to do business with a gay couple? The only difference – you agree with one moral stand and disagree with the other. Therein lies the problem. That florist believes in his principles as strongly as I believe in mine. He believes in his moral stand as much as you believe in yours. When you insist that he must violate his conscience, and force him to do so, you open the door for others to force you to violate yours.

Liberty of conscience and the right to freely associate underpin a free society. And the right to form relationships with whomever you please means you also have the right to refuse to enter into those relationships. When you utilize force to make people associate, you have obliterated a foundational pillar of liberty.

People who support the notion of forced associations come up with all kind of doomsday scenarios that will occur if they can’t bend you to their will. Most fall well outside of the realm of possibility. In this day and age, we simply won’t revert back to the Jim Crow era if businesses can serve whom they please. Keep in mind, Jim Crow was supported by the force of law and would have fallen apart without it. Forcing people NOT to associate at gunpoint is just as abhorrent as forcing them TO associate at gunpoint.

In fact, a gay couple refused service at the local florist will find a dozen that will happily take their dollars.

This leads me to something I just don’t get. Why do people want to do business with those who don’t like them? I can’t wrap my head around why a gay couple would INSIST that some homophobe take their money. Wouldn’t it make more sense to take your business elsewhere, and have all of your friends do the same? Pretty soon, a discriminating businessman will find himself hanging closed signs in his windows. But that’s not how it works in modern America. The slighted gay couple runs to the courts to FORCE this person who clearly doesn’t like them to do business with them. I find something incredibly bizarre about this scenario.

The underlying problem is that far too many people in this world want everybody else to validate them. That’s really what this boils down to. We want validation, and we’re willing to point a gun at everybody else’s head until we get it. This gay couple wants society to validate their lifestyle, so they sue a florist who refuses. Some Christians want society to validate their beliefs, so they try to get laws passed to insert prayer in schools.  Some atheists want society to validate their beliefs, so they insist there can’t be ANY prayers in school.

It’s absurd.

I am in an interracial marriage. That offends some people. Some people look at us funny. And you know what? At some point, we may even run into somebody who doesn’t want to serve us. I guarantee you this. We won’t sue. We won’t cry. We won’t go running to the press. We’ll just take our business elsewhere. We don’t need anybody else to validate our relationship. Thanks anyway.

Sadly, too many people can’t live and let live. We’ve morphed tolerance into a one-way street. You must tolerate me, because I will not tolerate your intolerance.

Living free can get messy. It requires true tolerance. That means allowing other people to live their lives as they see fit. And you know what? Sometimes that will offend you. Sometimes it will enrage you. And sometimes, it might even inconvenience you.

That’s the price of freedom.