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The right to refuse: Milo, Mill and the same-sex marriage bill

Friday, 08 December 2017

The right to refuse: Milo, Mill and the same-sex marriage bill
Milo in Sydney. Picture: Facebook

If economic freedom allows buyers and sellers to willingly enter into a contract, does it also imply the right to refuse service? That question underlies two of the biggest stories in Australia this week.

Milo Yiannopoulos, the self-styled alt-right provocateur, said he’s had difficulties hiring speaking venues and accommodation for his Australian tour.

As he told Macquarie Radio’s Alan Jones this week: “We can’t hurl money at hotels to let me to stay in them.”

Magnanimously, Yiannopoulos attributed this to the intimidation of the left. “For the venues, they’re worried because the left holds this Damoclean sword over the heads of anyone who will allow conservatives to speak.

“The left say, ‘We will associate your brand, we will associate your venue, we will associate you in the public imagination with the worst conceivable crimes, with neo-nazis, and pedophile apologists and all other kinds of deranged things and we will attempt to make the name of your business synonymous with the most evil and depraved things in life’.

“This is what the left does, (they) bully and intimidate and to get what they want not through reason and persuasion but through intimidation and accusation.”

Yiannopoulos did not, however, advocate for legislative protection from commercial cowardice.  

Contacted by the MRC, Yiannopoulos’s publicist, Max Markson, said the rejections, which he said had occurred in every city of the tour, were more personal than Yiannopoulos suggests. “They all cancelled because they just didn’t want him there,” Markson said. “It’s disgusting.”

Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court has begun hearing oral argument in the long-anticipated case  about the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs.

Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission, pits anti-discrimination laws against freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression.

Putting the discrimination issue aside for one moment, shouldn’t a supplier be free to trade with anyone or no one without heavy-handed intervention from the state?

Judging by their silence on the matter, Yiannopoulos’s left-wing opponents have no problem with this basic freedom. And nor should they. John Stuart Mill argued likewise.

In the “Applications” chapter of On Liberty, John Stuart Mill listed the various instances when society might justifiably impose restrictions or conditions on trade between free people. They related to alcohol, gambling, poisons and acts of indecency.

But even then Mill was not inclined to recommend blanket restrictions. Rather, in most instances he preferred all agents to be fully informed in order to make the best decision in their own interests.

“Leaving people to themselves is always better than controlling them,” he said.

Which begs the question: Should opponents to same-sex marriage be afforded the same rights as those who refused to deal with Yiannopoulos? - Fred Pawle

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