Well, this is disappointing -- a call to boycott the upcoming AALS meeting in my very own San Diego. All because The Manchester Hyatt, host of the convention, is owned by one Doug Manchester, who has contributed to the upcoming campaign to pass a constitutional amendment against gay marriage here in the state of California. Manchester, I should disclose, is also a major donor to the independent Catholic university of which I am a person of faculty, and also owns the Whitetail, a spiffy hotel in McCall, Idaho, where I hope someday to reside and currently spend at least one week every summer, though I am negotiating for more. (I refer to McCall, where my mother owns a house, not the Whitetail, which is a bit out my league, unfortunately. It is also being boycotted by gay organizations, but appeared very busy as of last week.)
My first reaction is to oppose this proposed boycott. But then, I'm not a supporter of gay marriage either, my position being, as I have explained on this blog, that it should be tried in Oregon first.
It strikes me as a bit much to boycott a large business, such as a hotel, because you disagree with the views of a man who owns, realistically speaking, only some part of it. For one thing, it is economically naive. A big entity such as a major hotel corporation has lots of "owners" -- it has shareholders and no doubt very significant creditors. Real estate projects, especially around San Diego and lately, tend to be highly leveraged. With what's been going on in the credit markets, who knows how far above water this hotel even is. It may be a stretch to even say the Manchester owns it, if in the event it were liquidated today, the creditors would end up with the shares. Are the views on gay marriage of all these "owners" relevant to where the AALS has its meeting? Should the views of a minority shareholder even count? What about the views of the workers at the hotel and the many vendors who sell it supplies?
Then there is the whole political intimidation dimension of this proposed boycott. It rather says, if you disagree with us on gay rights, we will punish you economically. I suppose if you think gay marriage is a fundamental human right, then economic warfare is justified. But there is something too to the ideal of tolerance, which is that we let other people express their views in the public square without trying to put them out of business. Manchester is just giving money that will no doubt be used to buy ads to try to persuade Californians to vote a certain way in an election. He's engaging in political speech. I would also go so far as to say his views are not beyond the pale. A boycott says he should not be suffered to express his views in this way. To me that does not seem very democratic.
There is also the question of where this should end. Should professors such as I even be permitted to attend the AALS meeting? Granted, I rarely go, but if it were in San Diego I might. As I said, I am currently against gay marriage outside of Oregon, and am if not a devout Catholic, at least one who strives to be annoying. Why not just bar such as myself from the AALS entirely? That would certainly make a statement about gay marriage, and would actually be within the jurisdiction, so to speak, of the AALS, which is all about law professors, not hoteliers. Maybe Catholic law schools should not be permitted to be members of the AALS at all. And don't forget BYU and the Mormons. They think lots of bad thoughts too.
The boycott is also economically silly. It is not going hurt Manchester or the hotel that is partially his very much. Rooms at that hotel, I would guess, are in great demand. If the AALS does not fill them, somebody else will. And if they don't, the AALS will end up paying for it, if the reservation contract is carefully drafted, and I bet it is. So the boycott would end up punishing economically the AALS more than the hotel. This is rather like saying, do as I say or I will shoot myself in the foot!, where the threatened party is somebody who could care less if you shoot yourself in the foot or not. I would think Manchester's attitude would be, hey, it's your foot.
As always, I should stress that I speak in this post only for myself and not for the university with which I happen to be affiliated, or for the holy, Roman, Catholic and Apostolic Church, into which I was baptized as a mewling infant. Any sins committed in this post are entirely my own.
STEVE BAINBRIDGE'S open letter, which I endorse.