Rebecca Hamilton, a fellow Patheos blogger, recently posted about a small business owner in Washington (state) who is being sued for refusing to provide flowers for a wedding.
As you might expect, the only reason she denied the couple in question flowers for their wedding is because they happened to be gay. Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland, claimed that she had no problem selling flowers to LGBT people… as long as it’s not for a gay wedding because that would involve “actively participating in something that just about all traditional Christians consider sinful.” As a result, she’s countersuing the state saying that her constitutional rights were violated.
I bring this up not to rehash the story of a Christian business owner who discriminates against LGBT people, but to point out Hamilton’s awful logic in defending Stutzman. To illustrate how damaging it is for a Christian to “participate” in a gay wedding by selling them flowers, Hamilton uses this analogy:
… if someone who was getting ready to rob [a] bank came into your store and wanted to buy a carton of milk for their lunch, selling them the milk would not make you part of their bank robbing. However, if they asked you to sell them a bag for the money, and they told you it would be used in a bank robbery, you would be part of the crime.
I am not equating bank robbery with gay marriage. They are entirely different. I just used that as an illustration.
It’s an absurd illustration, though, only partly because the flowers are more akin to the milk since you don’t need flowers for the wedding. (Of course, gay marriage isn’t a crime in Washington either.)
There are plenty of things that Christians participate in that they would generally consider sinful — it’s not like you see Christian waiters refusing to serve food (gluttony!) or Christian gas station workers refuse to sell a lottery ticket (greed!)… The court will be the one to decide to the legality of this matter, but even if Stutzman got off the hook, that wouldn’t make her actions right.
When you run a business, you can’t deny certain people services because of your religious beliefs — remember the florists who refused to deliver flowers to Jessica Ahlquist?
Even other Christian florists don’t seem to mind providing services for other “sinful” things. They’re happy to provide cakes for divorces, Pagan celebrations, and getting awarded a stem cell research grant. Everything, it seems, except gay weddings. The cherry picking is astounding.
When I asked Andrew Seidel of the Freedom From Religion Foundation about the discrimination at play here, he had this to say:
There are two things to understand on this issue. First, the State’s case against the florist are brought under civil rights law, not the Constitution. There is a federal civil rights law and each state has an equivalent. The laws are fairly simple: if you run a business (place of public accommodation), you cannot discriminate against customers based on race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, etc. (Laws spell out which classes and constitution adds protection in some cases).
It makes sense: if you can refuse to deliver flowers to an atheist or homosexual, you can refuse to sell them gas, or sell them food, or give them a room on a cold night, or give them medical care.
In this case, the State is suing this florist for her actions (refusing to serve all customers equally). They are not punishing or inhibiting her right to believe. Put simply, if she wishes to engage in the secular business of selling flowers, she must obey our secular laws.
Hamilton also points out that there are *other* flower shops that the LGBT community could go to that would be more than willing to honor their requests. But that’s besides the point; just because she feels uncomfortable with a certain class of customers doesn’t give her the right to deny them services she would offer everyone else.