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.