On your last trip to the store, you drove on roads paid for by everyone’s collective tax dollars. That store, and your home, are protected by police and firefighters paid for by everyone’s collective tax dollars. Part of the social contract that makes America work is, though we may not agree with one another, that we’re invested in this economy together.
Yet the Supreme Court of the United States may soon tell businesses throughout the country some of us are not worth including, protecting, and serving. Masterpiece Cakeshop is arguing that it, and others like it, should have a constitutional right to discriminate against customers simply because of who we are.
And that is both wrong for society and wrong for our economy.
LGBT inclusion is associated with higher levels of entrepreneurship and is linked to GDP growth, whereas LGBT discrimination goes hand-in-hand with a decline in productivity and success. Look at the private sector, where embracing diversity has led to a flourishing of innovation. Alternatively, look at North Carolina and the billions of dollars lost while the state attempted to turn members of our community into second class citizens.
We decry this effort to roll back the clock on current protections for LGBT Americans, especially when our opponents are being bolstered by an administration of self-proclaimed "business experts" who should know the economic benefits of inclusion.
Just look at the data to understand why. $1.7 trillion is a massive number. It’s more than the defense budgets for the U.S., China, and Russia combined. It’s approximately the GDP of Australia. It is more than six times the value of Walmart. If you think that such a large number should command attention and respect, you’re right; $1.7 trillion is the estimated input of new dollars that businesses owned by LGBT Americans add to the national economy every year, according to National LGBT Chamber of Commerce’s America’s LGBT Economy report. Couple that with the $917 billion that LGBT consumers spend every year on goods and services, and we are truly an economic force to be reckoned with in this country. And yet this cake shop seems to think our dough is worth turning away. Their bigotry is as unpalatable as their business sense.
We would like to think we also have recent precedent on our side. In 2016, District Court Judge Carlton Reeves said in his ruling against a similar discriminatory law in Mississippi:
"The United States Supreme Court has spoken clearly on the constitutional principles at stake. Under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, a state 'may not aid, foster, or promote one religion or religious theory against another.'”
This kind of freedom to discriminate is a desperate and callous backlash against marriage equality and other advances for the LGBT community. Public opinion echoes the Supreme Court’s prior sentiment and affirms that equality is essential for American progress, particularly its economy. Let us hope public opinion and precedent, indeed, wins out. We agree we are all entitled to our beliefs. But that does not give businesses a license to discriminate because of them, if you are still going to solicit business from everyone else.
The kind of discrimination we’re looking at here is not only dangerous to the economic and personal well-being of the LGBT community, but to the health and prosperity of all minorities in America. Allowing LGBT discrimination would immediately forge a path to allowing one's religious belief or moral conviction to blatantly relegate our communities to the status of second-class citizens. We have never seen greater cooperation and solidarity between America’s diverse communities than we have in recent months — and a great deal of that is due to the recognition that LGBT people are also part of every other community.
The success of America’s society and economy depends on us upholding that social contract of mutual accountability and respect. We are all red-blooded, tax-paying Americans who each deserve equal treatment under the law, and equal access to every publicly accessible business and service. If this government truly wants our economy to grow, it must concern itself with the health of our businesses, not our bedrooms and bathrooms. The Supreme Court must not allow a state-sanctioned license to discriminate. And if it does, we must be ready to fight in defense of our community like never before.
JUSTIN NELSON and CHANCE MITCHELL are cofounders of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). NGLCC is the business voice of the LGBT community, the largest global advocacy organization specifically dedicated to expanding economic opportunities and advancements for LGBT people, and the exclusive certifying body for LGBT-owned businesses.