Should Christian Businesses Support Unchristian Behavior?

Cooperation

The following post is adapted from a paper titled “Christian Businesspeople, Gay Weddings, and the Ethics of Co operation in Wrongdoing“. It was presented at the 2015 National Evangelical Philosophical Society meeting and was later submitted by Dr. David Oderberg as part of an amicus brief in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission supreme court case. This case has become just one part of an ongoing attack against Colorado baker Jack Phillips for his refusal to support LGBTQ celebrations such as gay weddings or gender transition parties. I present it here with only slight stylistic modifications.

Introduction

With the recent Supreme Court enforcement of the recognition of homosexual unions (aka “gay marriage”) has come a serious moral concern for businesspeople whose work is commonly associated with weddings and who view such unions to be immoral. Ongoing litigation against these business owners has taken the issue from the abstract to the concrete. It will be helpful, then, to subject these moral intuitions to a philosophically rigorous evaluation to determine whether refusal to lend such support is morally obligatory or merely optional. In this paper, David Oderberg’s method of analysis detailed in his article “The Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing” will be used for this task, for it focuses on various levels of cooperation in wrongdoing and not simply wrongdoing per se. [Dr. Oderberg now has an entire book devoted to this topic and you can download it for free HERE.]

With the legalization of civilly-recognized homosexual unions (so-called “gay marriage”) has come a serious legal and moral concern for anyone who considers such unions immoral and operates a business commonly associated with weddings, as gay-marriage activists actively seek opportunities for litigation for refusal of service (e.g., photographers,[1] bakers,[2] jewelers,[3] DJ’s, musicians, and florists[4]).[5] In light of these challenges, it will be helpful to put the issue through an objective and philosophically rigorous evaluation.

Method

The general question at hand is what exactly constitutes illicit cooperation in a wrongful act? In order to flesh out such a question and make it relevant to contemporary moral thought, I will consider the specific example of a Christian baker being requested to create a wedding cake for a homosexual union. While numerous ethical systems might be applied to the issue, here I will rely on David Oderberg’s The Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing.[6]  

I have chosen this article because it is one of the few that focuses precisely on co-operation in wrongdoing and not simply wrongdoing (e.g., its identification) per se. I think this is a better reflection of the issue at hand, for regardless of one’s position on homosexuality or homosexual unions, all can agree that merely baking a cake is morally neutral and hardly counts as the performance of a gay marriage. Many Christian bakers feel that by providing the cake for such an occasion, however, they would be illicitly contributing to the act.[7] What I hope to do here is put that reaction into perspective, and help those faced with such a decision to evaluate whether or not fighting the militant gay agenda in this manner is morally obligatory or merely optional (if admirable) for them.

There are basically three major factors that go into evaluating a cooperation-with-wrongdoing decision: (1) assessing the morality of the principle act, (2) identifying the type of cooperation under consideration, and (3) determining one’s duty to cooperate. Evaluating Factor 1 will not be necessary here, as it will be taken as a starting point that homosexual unions are considered immoral by most Christians, and certainly is by those Christian businesspeople in view here.[8] Instead, this article will focus on factors 2 and 3. My hope is that that analysis will be beneficial to those on either side of the issue. Even those who disagree on the moral status of a given act may at least reach a consensus upon counts toward a morally-charged cooperation decision.

Terminology / Taxonomy

The terminology describing the various categories of agents, actions, and intentions in Oderberg’s article can be bewildering, so I will begin with a brief summary of these below. [9]

  • ACTION – whatever act is under consideration.
    • Moral Locus:
      • Intrinsic – when the morality of an act is based on the nature of the act itself, regardless of effects.
      • Effectual – when the morality of an act is based on its effects, regardless of its nature.
    • Gravity:
      • Serious – when an act produces a large impact (figured quantitatively or qualitatively) upon an agent or third party.
      • Non-Serious – when an act produces a small impact (figured quantitatively or qualitatively) upon an agent or third party.
  • AGENTS – the persons who are involved in an act.
    • Principle – the primary agent who commits the act (PA).
    • Assistant – secondary agents who cooperate in some way with the PA.
  • COOPERATION – Assisting in the commission of an act.
    • Material – Having a different intent than the PA in the commission of an act.
    • Formal – Having the same intent as the PA in the commission of an act.
      • Implicit – Acting in indirect support of the purpose the PA.*
      • Explicit – Acting in direct support of the purpose the PA.*
        *(Whether or not such purpose is desired for the same reason(s) as the PA).
    • Negative – The non-hindering of the commission of an act.
    • Positive – The assisting of the commission of an act.
      • Moral – Assisting the commission of an act by communication.
      • Physical – Assisting the commission of an act by direct action.
  • INFLUENCE
    • Immediate – Assistant’s action is directly ordered toward the Principle’s act.
    • Mediate – Assistant’s action precedes or follows the Principle’s act.
      • Proximate – Assistant’s action is closely linked to Principle’s act.
      • Remote – Assistant’s action is distantly linked to Principle’s act.
    • Dispensable – Assistant’s cooperation replaceable.
    • Indispensable – Assistant’s cooperation irreplaceable.
  • RESPONSIBILITY
  • Unjust – Act is wrong in that it harms a third party.
  • Unlawful – Act is wrong in that it is a violation of law.
    • Natural Law – describes the relation of acts to the good of a thing.
    • Positive Law – describes statutes put in place by community authority.

Cooperation Identification

Agency

The first issue is to identify the various agents in the scenario. Assuming a gay wedding is a ceremony that mimics a traditional marriage, it will be conducted by (at least) an officiant and a couple. These, then, would seem to constitute the PA’s, however in a traditional marriage ceremony, it is actually the couple who are the “ministers” of the marriage – not the officiant (who acts in the role of an official witness). Thus, while it might seem that the officiant is the Principle and the couple his Assistants, this is may not be the case.[10] In any case, the PA is clearly one or more of these three agents.

Persons in a support role are, by definition, not PA’s. The baker need not be present at the ceremony, and, moreover, her involvement is not technically part of the ceremony – but rather the reception.[11] Thus, she would be considered only an Assistant Agent.

Influence

The second consideration has to do with influence. The cake the baker provides is not part of the wedding ceremony proper, but is involved in that act’s celebration (prior to which couple is already considered married). Following from this, the baker is actually providing support for an act following from the Principle’s act. It is thus a mediate influence. As to its proximity to the follow-up act, the cake seems to be quite close, as it is uniquely required for a standard portion of this particular event (as something like janitorial services or lighting would not be). Thus, it seems the cake baking would be of Proximate Mediate Influence.

Concerning dispensability, while the availability of wedding cakes will certainly vary by locale, it is likely that a particular baker’s cooperation would not often be absolutely necessary.[12] Unless the couple waited too long to order (which would be their own fault) or wanted a cake that very few bakers could provide (e.g., something requiring specialized skills or equipment), it is doubtful that any one baker’s lack of cooperation would make it impossible for a couple to attain a wedding cake. Thus, it is likely that a given baker’s cooperation would be considered Dispensable Influence.

Responsibility

Quite a bit of the controversy over the morality of providing a cake for a gay wedding has to do with whether such an act is immoral in the first place, and this is where such a judgment would come into play. Again, it is not the place of this article to make that judgment, as I am only interested in the role of a baker who does believe a homosexual union (and hence its corresponding ceremony) is immoral. Since in many places such an act is no longer illegal, cooperating with a gay wedding would not be positively unlawful. The justness of the act (based on its effect on third parties) is tied to the corresponding justness of homosexual acts in general, and even if the ceremony would not be witnessed by anyone other than the PA’s, its moral standing would remain the same. So in most cases a gay wedding would likely be objected to on the basis that it is Naturally Unlawful.[13]

Cooperation

Despite its title, providing a “wedding” cake is not actually a positive contribution to the wedding ceremony itself, but rather to an event that follows upon its completion. Thus, even if a Christian baker filled a gay wedding cake order, this would not necessarily indicate formal cooperation in that act. Indeed, it seems it could not, for the simple reason that the cake is not a component in the act of a wedding. Further, given that an objecting Christian baker would have not share the moral intent of the PA and that the provision of the wedding cake is neither sufficient nor necessary for the wedding ceremony, providing the cake would be classified as (at most) Negative Material Cooperation.[14]

Duty Determination

While directly committing an intrinsically evil act is never to be considered moral even if good may result, when it comes to assistance, things get a lot muddier. Once the type of cooperation with a given act has been settled, the other significant factor in determining the morality of cooperation is duty. Given that partaking in a given moral or immoral act can have varying requirements and consequences, the overall context needs to be taken into consideration. Oderberg’s list will be summarized below.

Evil Effect

Simply because some evil may come as the result of a given act, that does not make an act evil. This is an imperfect world, one in which virtually any action could produce some sort of evil effect. The relative “amount” of good and evil expected and produced by a given action must therefore always be measured (whether qualitatively or quantitatively) in a moral analysis. Adding to this difficulty is the fact that a single act may produce both good and evil effects. This is where the Principle of Double Effect (PDE) comes into play.[15] In its basic form, the PDE holds that so long as (1) the action itself is morally good or neutral, and (2) the bad effect is not willed but only permitted, and (3) the bad effect is not the means by which the good effect is achieved, and (4) the good effect is proportional to the bad effect, then an act producing some evil may be morally chosen.[16]

We have already established that the immorality of a homosexual union will be taken as a given for the present analysis of cooperation. In these cases, then, the questions concerning cooperation in wrongdoing will be an application of the PDE – for if no threat existed, an objecting agent would simply refuse cooperation and be done with it. The question for the Christian baker, then, is which factors weigh in to the good/evil balance in the PDE analysis.[17]

First, though, a related issue arises with PDE Rule 1 – that of the intrinsic moral status of the cake itself. Because the PDE cannot justify intrinsically evil acts, the Christian baker must evaluate the product itself – and a gay wedding cake may or may not be seen as intrinsically evil depending on whether the requested cake is “message-neutral.” Providing a cake with rainbow-colored flowers is different than a cake with a same-sex couple topper or one that obviously communicates support for such a union (perhaps in written form). Positively presenting a homosexual union will likely be seen as intrinsically evil by a Christian baker and thus violate PDE Rule 1.[18] In that case, the PDE might cease to be relevant.[19]

Moving on from PDE Rule 1, the analysis of cooperation in a (distinct) immoral action continues, but with some adjustments. Oderberg modifies the PDE four rules when considering a case of cooperation-with-wrongdoing:

  1. The more serious the principle wrong, the greater the good of cooperation must be.
  2. The more proximate to principle wrong the cooperation would be, the greater the good of cooperation must be.
  3. The greater the dependence the principle wrong has on the cooperation, the greater the good of cooperation must be.
  4. The more certain the wrong, the greater the good of cooperation must be.

Unfortunately, none of these principles are open to a simple mathematical calculus. They do, however, provide direction for an objective moral analysis. Even more unfortunately, in the example we are considering here, the good in these equations often comes with the avoidance of personal litigation and loss. This is where personal threat enters the picture.

Personal Threat

Under threat of personal loss, a good act may be avoided or an evil act permitted without incurring moral guilt – provided that the threat is properly proportionate to the act. Thus, one may avoid performing a good act if it would be of serious threat of loss – or even simply inconvenience – depending on the nature of the act in question. So, for example, one need not take a second job in order to have extra money to give to charity, nor would an unarmed citizen be expected to take on a gang of gun-wielding criminals to keep them from robbing a bank.

The fact of great personal threat to a Christian businessperson has become a major factor in the moral analysis of cooperation in a gay wedding as they are being publicly targeted in order to force compliance or ruin them. Oderberg discusses various factors in the scale of seriousness in his article, and these are fairly intuitive. What they come down to is proportion: only a personal threat of greater gravity than the evil of an act can be used to justify cooperating with that act.[20]

The gravity of evil one assigns to a gay wedding and the proportional threat one is exposed to (or perceives) will vary greatly between individual cases. For example, even under the assumption that homosexual activity is intrinsically immoral, the gay wedding ceremony itself might not accrue the same gravity of evil as it is merely an official recognition of a relationship that is distinct from the activity that one judges to be immoral.[21] Another mitigating factor would be the overall effect of a worst-case scenario. The total ruin of a bakery business might be catastrophic to a family where the income it generates is a major portion of the budget, whereas it might be only a major annoyance to someone who is only baking as a paid hobby.[22] Finally, other, less obvious, harms following from any kind of cooperation with wrongdoing must also be considered.[23]

Analysis and Evaluation

Analysis

If my above analysis is correct, for the Christian baker who views homosexual unions as immoral, providing a cake for a gay wedding would be categorized as an act of material, negative, dispensable, proximate, mediate, cooperation in a naturally unlawful act. Thus, it might be an act of either intrinsic evil or moral neutrality (depending on the nature and role of the cake) – and avoidance of such act could very well involve serious personal threat.

Evaluation

The result of applying the above considerations (and others like them) is a ruling of moral obligation or option. A moral obligation cannot be morally avoided – for to do so makes one a moral criminal, while acting on a moral obligation results in moral goodness. A moral option, on the other hand, can be morally avoided resulting in moral neutrality, while acting upon it makes for moral heroism. For example, in the example above, if a citizen was able to call the police to report a bank robbery without personal threat, it would be immoral not to do so; however, it would not be immoral to refrain from trying to stop the robbery single handedly, but it might be considered morally heroic. Evaluating the specific moral obligations and options in the present case will follow from the following general principles.

General Principles

As stated above, the greater the gravity of cooperation with an immoral act, the greater must be the personal threat in order to morally cooperate. Here are the relevant evaluative guidelines for the case at hand:

  • Intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, because evil is directly caused by the agent.
  • Formal cooperation with an evil act is always immoral, because the AA has the same evil intent as the PA. Material cooperation is evaluated according to other distinctions.[24]
  • Explicit Material cooperation with an evil act is worse than Implicit Material cooperation, because in the former the AA is clearly in league with the PA.
  • Positive Material cooperation with an evil act is worse than Negative Material cooperation, because in the former the AA is an active participant with the PA.[25]
  • Immediate cooperation with an evil act is worse than Mediate cooperation, because in the former the AA is working more closely with the PA.
  • Indispensable cooperation with an evil act is worse than Dispensable cooperation, because in the former the AA has a good chance of stopping the act via non-cooperation.
  • Unjust acts are worse than (merely) Unlawful acts, because the former harms those uninvolved in the act.
  • Naturally Unlawful acts are worse than (merely) Positively Unlawful acts, because the former is a violation of a higher-order law, whereas the latter may only violate a morally-neutral statute, or be only indirectly involved with a thing’s good.

Specific Evaluation

Using the above findings for evaluation, the following result is produced.[26] A Christian baker who objects on moral grounds to homosexual unions providing a cake for a gay wedding would likely be cooperating materially, negatively, dispensably, proximately, and mediately in a neutral manner[27] to the celebration of a naturally unlawful act, under threat of personal loss. If taken in a purely equivalently-quantitative sense, this might seem to render cooperation nearly morally neutral. However, certain factors seem to possess more weight.

The fact that these bakers are often dispensable means that their refusal to cooperate would likely not stop the act from taking place, because the cake could just be attained elsewhere – therefore it would require a greater threat of loss to the baker to justify cooperation. The cake’s proximity is questionable, because it is not technically part of the principle act (the ceremony); however, if it is considered by the baker to be so, or if the wedding reception is thought to contribute substantially to the principle act by its celebration, then a higher personal threat would be required for the baker to morally cooperate.

Finally, if producing such a cake is considered to be only a negative cooperation (allowance or tolerance) with regard to the wedding, this would diminish the baker’s guilt in choosing to cooperate (which would lower the personal threat requirement for the baker to morally cooperate). However, if it is thought to be a positive physical cooperation with the reception, such guilt might remain (the relative amount of which would correspond to the immorality of the celebration of the ceremony).

Conclusion

In the case of the Christian businessperson cooperating with a gay wedding, it seems that only at certain extremes does moral obligation enter in, although even the morally optional decisions remain fairly one sided. Obligatory cases revolve around two primary factors: the intrinsic moral status of the requested cake and the potential personal threat to the baker. Conveniently, it is usually only these two factors that significantly vary from case to case. In my estimation, these factors can be assessed according to the answers to these questions:

  • Does the requested action intrinsically support homosexual unions?
    • Yes: Decline (Obligatory).
    • No: Decline (Optional – see next question).
      • Might refusal to cooperate pose a serious personal threat?
        • No: Decline (Obligatory).
        • Yes: Accept (Optional).

In cases where the requested action would constitute direct support for homosexual unions and / or there existed no proportionately serious threat of personal loss for refusal, the Christian businessperson would have the moral obligation to decline cooperation.[28] Only if the requested act was morally-neutral and there existed proportionately serious threat of personal loss for refusal would the Christian businessperson have the moral option to cooperate.[29] Declining a morally-neutral action request under threat of proportionately serious personal loss would not be morally obligatory, even if it was morally admirable.

Finally, it bears repeating that even the results of a philosophically sophisticated moral analysis can vary due to some highly context-sensitive factors. No conclusion, therefore, will reach mathematical certainty. This conclusion, then, should not be thought to represent an absolute guide for all situations – each case needs to be carefully weighed according to its particular circumstances. In the end, one’s informed moral intuition should not be ignored regardless of the “numbers.”[30]

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NOTES——————————————————-

[1] E.g. http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2013/08/22/new-mexico-court-christian-photographer-cannot-refuse-gay-marriage-ceremony-next-stop-u-s-supreme-court/.

[2] Christian bakers, especially, are being targeted due to their unwillingness to make gay wedding cakes. A famous case involves the Christian owners of an Oregon bakery ordered to pay a $135,000 fine for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. (See http://www.christiantoday.com/article/oregon.bakers.fined.135000for.refusing.gay.wedding.cake.will.not. relent /58628.htm.

[3] The political motivation behind many of these actions was illustrated by the case of a Canadian jeweler who made a pair of custom engagement rings for a lesbian couple who, when they found out that the jeweler personally opposed same-sex marriage, demanded their money back (www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/heads-lgbt-win-tails-christians-lose/).

[4] Both DJ’s, musicians, and florists were called out by Governor Cuomo’s representative of New York as examples of business owners who could legitimately be sued by a same-sex couple for refusal of service (http://nypost.com/2011/07/18/gay-nay-marriage-clerks-say-i-dont/#ixzz1SUMwHbT1).

[5] This is part of a strategy laid out in the late 1980’s with the publication of Marshall Kirk’s and Hunter Madsen’s book After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90’s (Plume, 1990) – a manual itself based on their article in the November, 1987 edition of Guide Magazine titled “The Overhauling of Straight America” (accessed 8.3.15 at http://library.gayhomeland.org/0018/EN/EN_Overhauling_Straight.htm). Part of the strategy includes vilification: “In any campaign to win over the public, gays must be cast as victims in need of protection so that straights will be inclined by reflex to assume the role of protector. . . . At a later stage of the media campaign for gay rights-long after other gay ads have become commonplace-it will be time to get tough with remaining opponents. To be blunt, they must be vilified.”

[6] David Oderberg. “The Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing”, in A. O’Hear (ed.) Modern Moral Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004; Royal Institute of Philosophy Annual Lecture Series 2002-3): 203-27. N.B., I make no claims to being in agreement with, nor to be speaking for, Oderberg on this issue.

[7] Oderberg has a forthcoming article discussing the difficulties inherent in religious conscientious objection cases. At issue is the objector’s right to define for herself the rightness of (subsidiary) participation in a (primary) act, when there is no clear religious rule governing participation as such. How, it is asked, can a belief as to whether an act counts as immoral be itself a moral (or religious) belief? Taking mere sincerity of belief as a neutral standard would result in litigious chaos. Instead, these second-order questions should be able to be objectively and rationally analyzed (such is the purpose of Oderberg’s work in the area of participation in wrongdoing).

[8] For an impressive discussion of this issue, see Ryan T. Anderson’s Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom (Regnery, 2015).

[9] These categorical distinctions are very helpful, but the lines are not always perfectly clear. Depending on the degree of cooperation involved, some can even seem to overlap. For example, William Newton notes that, “some would argue that immediate material cooperation is always illicit, and that, in fact, it is equivalent to formal cooperation. They base this on the fact that sometimes a person’s action is so closely related to the evil action of the evil-doer that their protestations that they do not intend this evil are effectively empty.” (“Avoiding Cooperation with Evil: Keeping Your Nose Clean in a Dirty World” Homiletic and Pastoral Review (Sept. 21, 2012). John Paul II said that formal cooperation takes place when “an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act . . . or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it” (Evangelium Vitae, 74).

[10] It should be kept in mind that in the eyes of the general public, the officiant will likely be seen as a PA and this fact should be taken into consideration when determining participation in wrong doing.

[11] Persons in roles such as photographer or musician who are to be involved with the actual ceremony will need to adjust their participation analysis respectively.

[12] Note that this consideration is actually the opposite of the common excuse given for participation in wrongdoing – namely that, non-participation won’t stop the action from occurring. Whether or not a given AA’s non-participation will impede the PA has little bearing on the morality of the AA’s cooperation.

[13] In the cases of religious objection, “Supernatural Law” might also be invoked – but as the results are the same for Christians, it need not enter into the decision matrix here.

[14] One might argue that because the wedding cake comes into play during the reception, its provision should only be classified as a Positively Physical cooperation in that event. This may not ameliorate the scandal, however, as the reception is a celebration of the wedding ceremony.

[15] See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ II-II, A.64, Q.7

[16] It is possible that a personal threat may even be considered elevated to the level of coercion wherein the agent’s will is compromised such that they are no longer held morally accountable for their action – such as when a bank robber threatens to kill a hostage unless a vault code is given.

[17] N.B., “The doctrine of double effect and material cooperation can be expressed in terms of a person having a “proportionate reason” to cooperate with the evil deeds of another.  By expressing things in this way, it is very important that this notion of ‘proportionate reason’ should be distinguished from the condemned moral theory of Proportionalism . . . [which] claims that a person can chose to do what is evil as a means to attaining a good goal when he judges that the proportion of good to evil realized in his so acting justifies such action.” (Newton, 2012). The PDE (= material cooperation) never includes the willing of an intrinsically immoral act.

[18] Note that this principle is not biased against homosexual unions alone – what baker would be expected to promote racism, pedophilia, or rape with her cakes? This “message loophole” may be stated in such a way as to exclude certain kinds of messages from the start, thereby allowing Christian bakers refusal rights that might otherwise seem ad hoc when applied to gay weddings.

[19] Whereas a cake that is message-neutral might be seen simply as a good thing being used for a bad purpose in the context of a gay wedding.

[20] It is important to remember here that cooperation with is not commission of, as this would violate PDE Rule 1.

[21] The evil effects of such recognition also need to be taken into account, but this is beyond the scope of this post.

[22] In addition to these factors, others (such as public scandal, business backlash, or decisions made as a Christian employee of a secular bakery) might also come into play.

[23] Possible dangers include those threatening the AA (e.g., corruption of the AA’s moral sense), others (e.g., direct harm to others, or the possibility of scandal – encouragement to participate in immoral actions), and even to the PA (e.g., by lending a perceived approvals to his evil deeds which, in turn, could make him more corrupt).

[24] Agent intent is a major factor in moral assessment, even when considered apart from the act. Thomas Aquinas states, “If we speak of the goodness which the external action derives from the will tending to the end, then the external action adds nothing to this goodness . . . [or if] a man wishes to do something for a good or an evil end, and is hindered by some obstacle, whereas another man perseveres in the movement of the will until he accomplish it in deed; it is evident that the will of the latter is more lasting in good or evil, and in this respect, is better or worse.” (Summa Theologiæ I-II, Q.20, A.4).  Alphonsus Liguori says that cooperation in wrongdoing “is formal which concurs in the bad will of the other, and it cannot be without sin,” but is, “material which concurs only in the bad action of the other, apart from the cooperator’s intention.” (Theologia Moralis, II, §63).

[25] The degree of immorality in this scenario must include ability and responsibility to act. For example, an armed police officer’s negative material cooperation with a bank robbery is far more serious than that of an unarmed private citizen’s (See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ I-II, Q.6, A.3).

[26] Even this analysis is somewhat subjective. As Oderberg points out, it is important to note here that no moral evaluation process is one of mathematical precision. There is no simple numerical scale upon which to place moral considerations, even if their general values are objective and knowable. Thus, even in seemingly identical cases, the outcomes might differ due to any variable’s individual interpretation.

[27] Because one is obligated to avoid intrinsically evil acts, if the requested cake was one that by itself and in any context would clearly promote homosexual unions, the baker would be morally obligated to decline unless under serious personal threat (e.g., loss of livelihood). If, however, the cake itself was message-neutral, then the threat to personal loss could be substantially lower (e.g., business decline) to justify cooperation.

[28] The Roman Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith agrees: “In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.” (“Considerations Regarding Proposals To Give Legal Recognition To Unions Between Homosexual Persons” at http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_ 20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html  Access date August 4, 2015. Emphasis mine.)

[29] Note that such a threat need not manifest in order to count toward this analysis. The very fact that Christian businesspeople are being nationally targeted for just such litigation is enough to warrant its consideration.

[30] This is why the virtue of prudence must be cultivated in each individual’s life – for it is “right reason about things to be done” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ I-II, Q.56, A.3).

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