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Apr 11 2013

The need for anti-discrimination laws

Robert Ingersoll was a decade-long customer of Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts, a store in the town of Richland, WA who had often asked the proprietor Baronelle Stutzman to send flowers and other gifts to his partner Curt Freed. After the state passed a referendum last November legalizing same-sex marriage, Ingersoll and Freed decided to get married and Ingersoll naturally turned to Stutzman to provide flowers for his wedding. To his surprise, she refused saying that “I am sorry. I can’t do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.” even though she had long known about his relationship.

When the story became public, the state’s Attorney General filed a consumer protection lawsuit against the florist saying that, “Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers based on 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.”

To no one’s surprise, religious opponents of the same-sex marriage referendum are claiming that this is what they warned about, that passage would lead to persecution of religious people for living according to their beliefs.

What bugs me about this story are four things. One is that we are supposed to take as a serious argument some person’s imagined ‘relationship’ with a long dead and likely mythical figure requires her to do. The second is that such people cannot seem to imagine themselves at the receiving end of such treatment. If they were refused service anywhere because of their heterosexual orientation, would they meekly accept it? The third is that no one is forcing Stutzman be part of the wedding party or kiss the groom or make some similar public statement of approval of what she personally opposes. She was just asked to sell some flowers which is what her business does. The final one is the weird belief that Stutzman has that she is comfortable with people being in a homosexual relationship but getting married is somehow beyond the pale, similar to the other incident I wrote about before.

It should be clear that business owners do have the right to refuse service to people on all manner of grounds. We are all familiar with signs that say things like ‘No Shoes. No Shirt. No Service”. What you cannot do is discriminate on the basis of certain protected categories, as the attorney general pointed out.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    Worldtraveller

    It should be clear that business owners do have the right to refuse service to people on all manner of grounds. We are all familiar with signs that say things like ‘No Shoes. No Shirt. No Service”. What you cannot do is discriminate on the basis of certain protected categories, as the attorney general pointed out.

    It’s such a simple idea, but so many people can’t seem to grasp it.

  2. 2
    maddog1129

    Wow, when I saw the name Robert Ingersoll, I thought about Robert Green Ingersoll, the 19th C. atheist/agnostic. The flower shop people should learn a thing or two about Robert Ingersoll’s namesake.

  3. 3
    Matt G

    Religiously sanctioned bigotry rears its ugly head once again. It’s amazing how much injustice hides behind religion.

  4. 4
    Erik Jensen

    I disagree. I think the proper response here is shaming and a boycott of this business. I don’t think the government should be in control of hurt feelings. The guys weren’t deprived of essentials like employment or housing; they were slightly inconvenienced. Yes, the owner’s reasons for refusing to sell are idiotic. Let her be an idiot and we can buy from a different store.

  5. 5
    garnetstar

    I do think that there is a civil right not to be discriminated against in public accomodations and businesses. Yes, black people should have been served at Woolworth lunch counters, and that should be required by law. And so on.

  6. 6
    jaxkayaker

    I agree with Erik. Let idiots be idiots, and boycott, name and shame them.

  7. 7
    Mano Singham

    The catch is that ‘naming and shaming’ works only when the perpetrators are in the minority. Although the state of Washington passed the referendum allowing same-sex marriage, the county where this occurred was strongly opposed. So the store owner likely has a lot of support and is unlikely to be shamed. If she is allowed to discriminate, this would make it tougher for gay people in that area.

    History provides some evidence for the position that the rights of minorities need the support and protection of the legal system until they become the norm.

  8. 8
    Mrs. K

    Thank you Erik Jensen! Someone commented to me that this situation is analogous to Jim Crow laws. WHAT?!?! Government mandated segregation compared to a sadly ignorant bigot who doesn’t want to sell some flowers. The state’s action in this is only rallying the homophobic; the state is coming across big government bullies and the couple here appear to be retaliating. As you said, the free market will stop this kind of thing.

  9. 9
    jaxkayaker

    Dr. Singham:

    So be it. Even bigoted assholes have rights, and the gay couple is merely being inconvenienced, not denied any vital necessities of life.

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