Last November, as most of you know, my home state of Washington legalized same-sex marriage. Not only was it the right thing to do but it is bringing a bit more green to our economy. More weddings equals more wedding stuff: formal wear, catering, clergy who will perform same-sex weddings; flowers. It is in that last category where we run into our first problem.
Over in Richland, on the red side of the Cascades, you won’t find many folks who approve of the law that the “wet side” passed last year. Especially at Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts. Though Robert Ingersoll and his partner had been customers there for nine years, owner Barronelle Stutzman refused to provide the flowers for their upcoming nuptials. Why? She told Ingersoll that it was because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ.”
When word got out – as it inevitably does in this age of social media – there was the predictable indignation on the west side of the mountains and the crazed frothing-at-the-mouth on the east side. But once the state Attorney General Bob Ferguson found out about it, he filed suit on behalf of the state. Seems that we have a pretty strict non-discrimination law here in Washington and our AG is serious about it. He wrote to Ms. Stutzman:
“Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation. If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service.” (Source)
Ferguson demanded that Stutzman pay a $2000 fine and seeks a permanent injunction requiring Arlene’s to comply with state anti-discrimination laws.
The shop owner retained an attorney, maintaining that the discrimination claim was “nonsense.” JD Bristol, the attorney in question, says this isn’t about Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed, being gay. No, it’s not about being gay, it’s about marrying gay. And what do you think Mr. Bristol’s argument in defense of Ms. Stutzman is? (I know you’ll get it on your first try) Yes, that’s right:
“I one hundred percent believe this is a freedom-of-expression and free-exercise-of-religion issue. What the government is saying here is that you don’t have the right to free religious exercise.” (Source)
And he’s not alone on this. The right-wing blogosphere and media have jumped all over this. First up, Fox ‘News’ Radio reporter Todd Starnes, who said the lawsuit was “anti-Christian” and Tweeted:
Then the American Family Association spokesbigot Bryan Fischer called it:
Over at Breitbart.com, John Nolte wrote:
“There is no question that rank-and-file gay couples of all political stripes are sincere in their desire to enjoy the benefits and status that come with marriage. There is no sinister agenda at work in the issue of same-sex marriage among the masses. But the same cannot be said of the organized left who have always intended to use the issue of gay marriage as a vehicle to destroy the Christian Church and marginalize Christians. Faithfulness to the Bible and the Christian faith will very soon be declared bigotry by the media and a de facto civil rights violation by the State.”
Oh noes!!! Quick, set your hair on fire and run around screaming! But first read what Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council wrote:
“Of course, leading up to last November’s election, when Washington State voted to legalize same-sex “marriage,” supporters argued that redefining marriage wouldn’t hurt anyone–that it was just about two people who love each other. Well, it may be about two people who love each other, but it’s also about the florists, the bakers, the candlestick makers, and everyone else the Left wants to force to endorse their relationship!”
Better squirt some kerosene on your head for more flaming goodness! People are being hurt, dammit! Nevermind that they are suffering because of their own bigotry and their willful transgression of state law.
But Joseph Backholm, head of the Family Policy Institute of Washington really went whole hog:
“One wonders how many of those who assured us that no one would lose their liberty will come to the defense of Arlene’s Flowers. Of course this lawsuit isn’t due exclusively to the redefinition of marriage. The non-discrimination statute that this suit has been brought under existed previously. It was bad then, it is bad now. The difference, however, is this. Now that the law says marriage is genderless, those who think otherwise are much more likely to be confronted with the Hobbesian choice to conform or be punished.”
Oh, those poor put-upon bigots. Gawd knows that they try, they really do, but that naughty homo behavior just makes baby Jeebus cry. “Hobbesian choice” my ass. You can either choose to serve everyone in this state or you can choose to discriminate. But if you choose the latter, you are not being “punished.” You are putting yourself in this position when you made the other choice here – to allow your religion to dictate who you do business with or you not. Simple.
The ACLU has got in on the suit now and, on behalf of Ingersoll and Freed, they have issued a list of settlement conditions to Ms. Stutzman and Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts:
– “You agree not to refuse to provide flowers and other goods and services to any person on the basis of his or her sexual orientation;
– “You agree to write a letter of apology to Mr. Freed and Mr. Ingersoll to be published in the Tri-City Herald;
– “You agree to donate $5,000 to the Vista Youth Center, in lieu of payment of attorney’s fees.
“If this matter cannot be satisfactorily resolved, Mr. Freed and Mr. Ingersoll have authorized our law firm, acting as cooperating attorneys for the ACLU and ACLU of Washington, to commence legal action against you for violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination.”
So we shall see where this goes. I’m sure that this poor couple never expected to be a test case for the new freedom that LGBT folks have in our state but that’s how it’s shaping up. Meanwhile, supporters on both sides are lining up for the battle. As for me, I’m pulling for Ingersoll and Freed. Love is hard to find and nobody should have to explain who they found it with and how and why. All they wanted were flowers from a designer they admired so much that they asked her to do their wedding. Somehow, I don’t think Jesus would really have a problem with that.
T. Steelman is a life-long Liberal. She has been writing online about politics since 2007. She lives in Western Washington with her husband, daughter, 2 cats and a small herd of alpacas. How can anybody be enlightened? Truth is, after all, so poorly lit…