The Washington Supreme Court ruled unanimously against a nice lady who owns a floral business in Richland because she turned away two men who wanted her to supply flowers for their wedding.
Barronelle Stutzman is not a bad person, despite the angry mail she has reportedly received. But Attorney General Bob Ferguson made the right call in pursuing the case.
Stutzman’s case became a cause celebre among people for whom “religious freedom” has become a rallying cry. Freedom not to hand over marriage certificates or contraceptives or floral arrangements, if the request is deemed to be offensive to one’s beliefs.
Like all cases when activists get involved, the rhetoric became overheated and ridiculous. Stutzman, a grandmother, could lose her business, home and life savings! The attorney general wasn’t the one raising the stakes. He gave her the opportunity to comply with a consumer protection law. She hired lawyers instead, and that legal team has trumpeted the case far and wide. Even then, Ferguson offered to settle the case for a small amount.
This sort of case was inevitable when Washington state adopted a gay marriage law and voters rejected a referendum seeking to overturn it. Before that, voters endorsed greater protections against discrimination for gay and lesbian couples. And an effort to overturn that law also failed.
Ferguson, as a public servant, is doing his job. If it weren’t Stutzman, it would’ve been someone else.
The case could be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but in the meantime, Washington businesses know the legal landscape. Ferguson spelled it out in a 2013 news release when he brought action against Stutzman.
“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.”
Stutzman’s defense was creative. In an op-ed she wrote for the Opinion page, she said:
“What our state Supreme Court will decide is whether the government has the power to separate my creativity from my soul – by compelling me to create artistic expressions that celebrate something that goes against my conscience.”
But it doesn’t matter whether it’s floral arrangements in Richland or milk shakes at a Southern soda fountain. Religion doesn’t provide a free pass. Many people from yesteryear cited religion to justify slavery, segregation and opposition to mixed-race marriages. They don’t garner much sympathy today, even though they were denied their religious freedom to discriminate.
Do we want government deciding which religious objections are valid? Flowers, yes; but milk shakes, no? Gay marriage, yes; but mixed marriage, no?
It’s true the gay couple could’ve shopped elsewhere for flowers, just as they could get another apartment if evicted, or a meal “where they are wanted.”
But it wouldn’t be the same America for them, and that’s what the struggle for equality has been all about.
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