Flowers, cakes and objections to same-sex weddings

In two recent posts — here and here — I critiqued media coverage of proposed religious exemptions for florists, bakers, photographers and others opposed to same-sex marriage.

Last month, I examined news reports on a federal judge striking down the ban on same-sex marriage in my home state of Oklahoma.

In Sunday’s Tulsa World, those subject areas came together in a front-page story:

Oklahoma may soon join a growing number of states where same-sex marriage laws and religious liberty concerns are on a collision course.

A federal judge’s ruling last month that Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional raises questions that eventually will need to be addressed by lawmakers and judges.

If the ruling is upheld, will a church that rents its facilities to the public for weddings be allowed to turn down a gay or lesbian wedding?

Can a photographer be fined for refusing to photograph a wedding over which he or she has religiously founded moral objections?

Can a bakery decline to make a wedding cake for such services?

These are not hypothetical questions.

In New Mexico, wedding photographer Elaine Huguenin was fined $6,000 for refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony.

In Colorado, Jack Phillips, a baker who would not bake a cake for a same-sex ceremony because it violated his religious principles, was ordered by a judge to bake the cake. And in Washington, a similar case against a florist is pending.

For those who have followed this issue closely, the World treads pretty basic ground (see the Wall Street Journal’s report on the subject from last fall). Still, I give the Tulsa newspaper credit for tackling this important angle.

And while some news stories have treated the religious concerns with seeming contempt, the World leans perhaps too far the other direction — quoting a number of exemption proponents before including an opposing voice:

These types of cases generally are based not on the legal status of gay marriage but on nondiscrimination laws that include sexual orientation. Tulsa and Oklahoma do not have such laws, but some people remain concerned.

“I think it’s a slippery slope, if you crack open that door,” said Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris, whose office will represent the defendant in the Oklahoma case, Tulsa County Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith, who issues marriage licenses.

Andrew Walker, director of policy studies for the Southern Baptist  Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said the religious liberty concerns are “justified by virtue of what’s happening across America.”

“Whether florists, caterers, or photographers, what we’re seeing is that any Christian who owns a business that provides material or artistic goods for weddings is liable for prosecution under state nondiscrimination law.

“What’s at stake is whether an individual will be coerced into  providing services for a practice that Christianity considers sinful,” he said.

Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, the lead attorney in the New Mexico photography case, agreed that the threat to religious liberty is real.

“This is a genuine concern. There have been a number of cases nationally,” he said.

But after reading the entire 1,400-plus words, this story left me with one of those empty feelings you get after eating rice cakes for breakfast (not that I’ve ever tried that, but you get the point).

There’s a potentially meaty story here, but instead, the World offers a hopscotch of talking heads — jumping from business owners to whether churches would be required to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies (that seems to be a different issue and not a real concern at this point, right?). The piece lacks organization, focus and real insight.

Rather than just string together a bunch of quotes, why not pick a specific angle? Perhaps dive into the lawsuits in New Mexico, Colorado and Washington state and use those circumstances as case studies for Oklahoma? Perhaps interview some Oklahoma florists, bakers and photographers and see how their religion plays into their professions and how they feel about the issues at play? Tell a real story, in other words.

Perhaps I’m being overly critical, though. By all means, kind GetReligion readers, please read the whole story and weigh in with your journalistic reactions, questions and responses to my critique.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • boinkie

    Slippery slope danger indeed.

    I once saw a staff party where the men “celebrated” by eating a chocolate cake in the design of a nude woman…it was a chocolate cake and the supervisor they despised was black.

    I always wondered why a bakery would not refuse to supply such a cake.

    How far would it go? Could a Muslim baker be sued for refusing to bake hot cross buns? Christmas cakes? A cake in the shape of a pig? The civil rights law would protect his or her job if he worked for another, (in the same way it protects the job of hospital workers who refuse to do abortions) but what about if he or she owned their own bakery?


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