Civil Rights vs. the Right of Refusal

As the supreme court decides the case against a Colorado baker and his right to refuse a gay couple’s request for a wedding cake, parallels to the graphic design profession are easily drawn. 

Last week I posed the question to my graphic design class and asked them to imagine that the case was not about a cake, but about a wedding invitation. Like the supreme court, the class was not all on the same page. While some immediately felt it was the responsibility to serve the couple, others felt strongly that the cake designer had rights too, and that his right to refuse should be protected.

What followed was a lively discussion about civil rights vs. personal rights and when and where lines can be drawn. Parallels to the civil rights movement were made and how the implications of what allowing one small business in Colorado to do sets the stage for abuses of civil rights on a larger scale for other marginalized groups. As one New York times article asks, “should free speech protections include self expression that discriminates?”

The debate brings up morality issues that are core to any service business. Like an attorney, is it a graphic designers’ responsibility to represent their client without being influenced by their own personal beliefs, including non-secular issues that are at odds with laws that are in place to protect our civil rights?


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