Is Discrimination a Bad Word?

Well, is it?

There’s been a lot talk about Indiana as of late, which I’m sure you’ve heard about, unless of course you’re a hermit; which if that is the case, you probably aren’t reading this post.

Either way, let me ask the question again. Is discrimination a bad word?

It depends, doesn’t it?

Let’s say that I’m a photographer. And into my shop walks:

A) A heterosexual couple
B) A grandmother looking to marry her sixteen year old grandson
C) A brother and sister in their early twenties wanting to get married
D) Two men and a woman wanting to get married
E) A man and four women wanting to get married
F) An older gentlemen wanting to marry his dog
G) Two women wanting to get married
H) Two men wanting to get married

Which of these, and upon what basis, do you happily agree to shoot (with a camera!), utilizing all the skills in your repertoire to capture their joy with both professional quality and artistic flare?

If the photographer is a Christian, he or she may want to decline the job. Why? The Christian views marriage as a holy covenant and holy institution established by God. Not only is it limited by the Creator of the universe, being designed for specific purposes, but it also pictures a number of holy realities that ought not be tampered with (Ephesians 5). Capturing the ceremony and the celebration to follow will more than likely bother the conscience of the Christian. It strikes against deeply held beliefs.

Now let’s suppose the photographer is a secular humanist, thoroughly liberal in bent. Will they decline to shoot any of the above weddings? I suspect so. But why?

The most obvious answer would probably be the law. Many of the above are illegal. So that could serve as a reason. But that just pushes the discrimination question back a step. What right does the government have to say such and such is bad, so far as weddings are concerned? As Big Brother, it is, quite naturally, within their right. But what makes their particular judgment correct? What makes it right-right?

Supposing for a moment that it were entirely up to the secularist, would he or she decline to shoot some of the above weddings? If so, why?

The answer here rests almost entirely upon the person’s worldview and understanding of marriage. If the photographer holds to the views of, say, Alex Rosenberg, they may very well shrug their shoulders and go along with it. But if not (if they feel compelled by some inner conviction or law to refrain) would their refusal be discriminatory in nature?

Yes, of course. That’s what the word means… kind of.

Consider three definitions by Webster:

1) The act of discriminating, or distinguishing differences
2) The ability to make or perceive distinctions; perception; discernment
3) Partiality, or bias, in the treatment of a person or group, which is unfair, illegal, etc.

There is a kind of discrimination that is unavoidable and fine, but there is also a kind of discrimination that can be bigoted and unjust. The question before us here is whether or not it would be unfair for any of us to refrain from shooting a wedding ceremony (and the celebration to follow).

The rightness or wrongness of the discrimination, I would urge, turns on a very simple point. It all comes down to truth. What is the true state of affairs? Are some of the above examples perverted? If so, what are they perverting from? What is the standard or norm from which they are deviating?

You can see where I’m going.

At the end of the day, there is a tremendous amount of chatter surrounding this issue, which is fine and good. But I would like to see more of my secular friends (and Christian friends!) move beyond the emotional element and center more on the underlying issues- the fundamental questions.

What is marriage? Is it divinely instituted? Or is it merely a human convention? What are the implications of each? Moreover, why does it matter what we do with our bodies, sexually speaking?

I’d love to hear more frank discussions about these questions.


  1. S T Lakshmikumar April 16, 2015 at 5:35 am #

    Hello, I am a Hindu. I am interested in the issue. The problem is not merely one of convictions or fundamental issues but whether this interaction is to be treated as a purely technical and commercial transaction in which case the society can demand that there be no discrimination or a personal service in which case it may not. Let us take the very same example you have taken. When you are photographing, your personality comes into the picture. If it were merely a printing service it would not. If the people concerned were really wanting a quality service they would never consider you as a suitable source. In most cases, these are nothing but “sting” operations for publicity and/or hurting people such as you. The sad reality is that the very people (including judiciary that should know better) who demand leniency and humane punishments in criminal cases are willing to be severe in these cases. ( Guess we can discuss further if you respond ) regards. lakshmikumar

    • Austin Brown April 16, 2015 at 4:37 pm #

      Hello, Lakshmikumar.

      Thanks for the reply! You make some good points/observations, particularly the common sense one where you say, “If the people concerned were really wanting a quality service they would never consider you as a suitable source.”

      As for my own thinking, as I think about your second sentence, I cannot see how an issue like this could ever be treated as simply a commercial transaction. Some issues are saturated with morality and intimately bound up with one’s worldview.

      If I were to withhold service from a black man, simply because he is black, I would consider that egregious. It is racist. And given my worldview, racism is objectively wrong. That being said, if a heterosexual couple wanted me to take pictures of them engaging in lascivious acts (at a reception party), I would refuse to participate. Why? I believe it would be objectively wrong. It is a form of sexual immorality.

      Lines have to be drawn. And I believe those lines ought to be drawn in accord with reality.

      In this respect, would you agree? Just curious! Thanks again for joining the conversation.


  1. Is Discrimination a Bad Word? - April 20, 2015

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