Can you really reserve the right to refuse service?

With the recent same-sex marriage ruling in California, more and more businesses are going to be faced with making serious, perhaps business/life-altering decisions about their operations – assuming they haven’t already.

One excellent example is the case of New Mexico wedding photographers who refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony in 2006.

Earlier this year, the state of New Mexico’s Human Rights Commission ruled that they had violated the rights of the gay couple who called to inquire about their photography services, and fined them $6600.

It’s easy to think in hindsight that if they were uncomfortable – for any reason – shooting the ceremony, they could have simply said “We are booked that day, sorry.

The problem is, do you also lie when the Catholic couple calls, or the bi-racial couple calls, or the Muslim couple, or the white couple, or the Jewish couple, or the Republican couple? Before long, you’re left to photographing parakeets, as long as they promise to behave:)

Seriously, I don’t mean to equate any of these groups with each other, much less with the parakeet, but the exaggeration (perhaps) makes the point clearer.

Does the context matter?

We recently talked about firing clients, in the context of them being abusive to my staff. Is that any different? What if that client had sued, saying he had the right to say whatever he wanted and still acquire our software?

Last week, Blackstar Rising blogger and professional wedding photographer Sean Cayton discussed the issues surrounding same-sex wedding photography. His comments were in the context of “if I do business with group A, will I lose the business of group B” and noted that he was watching the situation as he figures out what to do.

We’ve seen this here in Montana a little bit, as a Great Falls pharmacy decided to stop carrying birth control pills a while back, citing moral objections.

Note that they also made it clear that their profit and sales volume of those items were small and that was also part of the decision. True or not, are you obligated to carry EVERY drug, even if it doesn’t sell well? Some might question your real reasons for stopping those sales.

And that gets us to the real question…

Is it possible NOT to offend?

What is a business owner to do?

These days, in some business sectors, it’s almost impossible not to offend SOMEONE simply by opening for business in the morning. Others because they go camping with Boy Scouts, or go to the Catholic church, or volunteer at the UN Association, or carry a Sierra Club membership card, and so on.

In a lot of ways, this goes back to having your business well thought out. Knowing who your customer is, and who they aren’t. Knowing yourself, because you have to expect in today’s business and political climate, you are going to take crap for things you take part in, much less for things you feel strongly about.

And remember that it isn’t just you. Your staff plays a significant role here. It’s not hard to imagine that a religious goods store owner would try pretty hard not to hire an atheist, but they would have to be very careful how they figure that out without breaking employment law.

Yeah, with all those links, I’m sending you all over the place to ponder the impact of this, and perhaps, give you a few things to think about before one of these situations catches you unprepared. Strategically, and personally, it makes sense to have as much of this figured out as you can – but sometimes, that’s not how life is.

If you refuse service, even if it is your right, how will the market react?

Are you prepared financially and personally to deal with the outcome? Is your business structured so that you can turn away business that you don’t want. If you don’t want it (whatever IT is), is there another way to deal with those prospect?

For starters, referring them to a competitor that delivers great quality is the minimum you owe them.

Remember, your marketing and your reputation – both built intentionally – is likely what caused them to contact you. Hanging up on them because they were attracted by your success is absolutely the wrong thing to do.

When you hang out a shingle, you invite the public to deal with you. None of us is perfect, least of all, me.

How you react to the folks who “bother you” – regardless of the reason – is just as important as how you react to your ideal client.

Both deserve courtesy.