Corporate Rights


nogays“License to discriminate” laws, which would allow a company to refuse service to GLBT customers on religious grounds, are being debated in many state capitals, and a few states, notably Arizona, have walked back from the brink of enacting such a law. These bills are so vaguely worded that people seem to have figured out that basically they would allow a vendor to refuse service to anyone they don’t happen to like for “religious” reasons. Supporters of these laws frame the debate as a matter of individual rights and the free market. But then, with an almost imperceptible sleight of hand, they’re suddenly talking not about an individual but about a collective body. “Corporations are people, my friend!” exclaimed Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign. That may be true in some post-Citizens United sense, but there’s a vast body of law establishing that a company such as a restaurant is a “public accommodation” which, unlike a private person, can’t refuse service to minorities. But take heart, Mitt! There are lots of things a corporation can do that a person can’t, such as buying and selling one another, for starters. But a corporation cannot vote or drive a car or hold opinions about the worthiness of customers according to their demographic characteristics.