It is, of course, true that unpopular stances, such as being opposed to gay marriage, should have the same right to express dissent through the marketplace as popular stances, such as fashion designers refusing to serve Melania Trump. What precisely do we mean by “right,” though? In the case of Arlene’s Flowers, many people would agree that while nothing technically illegal has occurred, it’s still morally wrong that a small business can be driven to bankruptcy in order to make an example of thoughtcrime. It looks like bullying. It looks like disproportionate punishment. It looks like, as someone joked recently, the culture wars have ended, and the victors are now driving around summarily executing prisoners of war for sport. Do we expect that magnanimity and mercy should prevail, that people should refrain from choosing punitive justice through the courts even though the option exists? Or do we envision equal “rights” as entailing that outraged progressives should be just as quick to demand that Sophie Theallet be financially punished?
Personally, I would love to see people outgrow the childish notion that their financial transactions can be confined to circles of moral purity, like a micro form of crony capitalism. Only through extremely selective attention can we avoid noticing how much of the money we earn and spend can be “linked” to organizations and schemes of which we would personally disapprove. Rather than withdraw into fantasies of self-sufficient, morally monolithic communes, or of a post-capitalist future in which all such social divisions have been transcended, perhaps our time would be better spent practicing how to be gracious and patient toward those in our out-group. Technically, the customer may always be right, but it’s bad form to abuse that advantage.