I don’t like peanut butter. And whenever I say that, I always get looks like there must be something wrong with me. The thing is, I’m allowed to not like peanut butter. And I guess they are allowed to think something is wrong with me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Long before the Internet made trite every poignant quote from every brilliant mind, my grandmother was fond of reminding us during every family argument (which happened every family meal), that famous quote from Voltaire, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
And growing up in a family that encouraged lively debate, it was never more important to understand: you get to say whatever you want, others don’t have to like it or agree with it, but we have a right to our opinion, and both sides have to support a society that allows people to have rights, because we all benefit from that.
Let’s imagine you work at store that only sells peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The store does great, and business is good because most people like PB&J. So for years you are happy in your work. But then, a growing percentage of the population comes in and says, I just want the peanut butter please. You’re disgusted by that, which is fine, but the boss wants to keep customers happy, and give them what they want, because they’ve asked for it, and a business does not succeed unless it serves the customer. The boss says the store is going to offer the usual PB&J, but also just peanut butter, spread on two slices of bread. And for that matter, those who want just jelly, well the store will sell just jelly spread on two slices of bread too. So all combinations are accounted for.
You don’t particularly hate the idea of people eating just peanut butter and bread or just jelly and bread, but the fact that they call it a sandwich flies in the face of your definition of a sandwich. And dammit, we live in America and you’re allowed to think that, and you’re allowed to say that.
But you know what you can’t do?
You can’t make the boss stop selling them. You can’t claim that you will only sell the PB&J because you object to the other varieties on the grounds that you don’t agree with it, can’t make sense of it, or because your personal dietary dogma doesn’t include this particular variety of sandwich. It’s not your store and the owner decided to cater to the people who are his clientele. They’ve spoken and he’s listening. You don’t have to continue working there, that’s your choice. Or you can stay on the job knowing that your job isn’t necessarily a reflection of you and your beliefs. And it doesn’t mean you have to suddenly like or agree with these new homogenous sandwiches. But, you have to decide what you are going to do, and it can’t be forcing people to adhere to your beliefs, you just have to do your job, or get another one.
I don’t stand up and say much about gay marriage…or gun rights, or water rights in California, or a myriad of things that don’t affect me much, but I do believe in everyone’s right to have the same rights.
So to Casey Davis, Kim Davis, and any of the other local government officials who would refuse to issue marriage licenses, like it or not, this store called America offers the right to marry to every customer who walks in the door, and just like other products they offer: the freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, freedom of religion; you don’t have to agree or engage in them, but you can’t stand in the way of those who do.