This story raises interesting issues. Briefly, Michael Lord sought landscaping services from Garden Guy of Houston, Texas. Garden Guy responded by email: “I need to tell you that we cannot meet with you because we choose not to work for homosexuals.” (The Reuters story I read does not disclose how Lord’s presumed sexual preference entered his discussions with Garden Guy.) Lord forwarded Garden Guy’s email to friends, who forwarded it to friends, who forwarded it to friends and, as these things often go, the media picked up the story. In addition to patio pavers and organic fungus foilers, Garden Guy purveys opposition to gay marriage. Its home page features a passage from Ephesians 5:25-33 that ends with these words: “[A] man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh… each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Angry recipients of Lord’s forwarded email posted 26 pages of comments on a Garden Guy web forum, which Garden Guy has taken down.
This is my take on the issues.
- The Reuters article I read on c/net quotes Garden Guy’s co-owner as saying “[w]e felt that it was our right as an American small business to choose who we do business with.” Unless there is a Texas state law to the contrary (I have not researched the question but I doubt such a law exists) I think she is correct. Garden Guy has the legal right to to do business with whom it chooses.
- Michael Lord has the right to forward Garden Guy’s email. A sender generally has no reasonable expectation of privacy in emails. Email is an inherently insecure medium. There are a number of well-publicized cases in which embarrassing email messages made their way to in boxes around the world. I don’t think that Garden Guy has any invasion of privacy claim against Lord.
- I also don’t think Garden Guy has a claim against Lord if its business suffers from this publicity. There is nothing defamatory about the forwarded email–it is Garden Guy’s words, after all, and similar sentiments are/were expressed on its website. (The Reuters article reports that Garden Guy’s site contained a link to www.nogaymarriage.com, but I didn’t see it when I visited the site as I wrote this post.) Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from speech’s consequences.
- The Internet’s power to distribute information is breathtaking. Before the Internet and email, Garden Guy’s rebuff of Lord’s business would have been an unpleasant event known only to his circle of friends. Not any more. Garden Guy’s co-owner said “[w]hen we sent (the e-mail) we intended it for the client. We did not intend it to be some sweeping political statement for the world.” When every person with access to a keyboard and Internet connection can become William Randolph Hearst the power to create sweeping political statements is broad.
- Before sending that flaming email message, sleep on it. Read it in sober and dispassionate daylight. You cannot control it once you hit send.
- A gospel-spouting landscaping business named Garden Guy? A disrespected homosexual man named Lord? You can’t make this stuff up.
Sources: Reuters, Landscaping firm’s antigay e-mail sparks online fury, c/net News.com 09-Nov-06