Washington Florist Wants to Be a Martyr

Washington Florist Wants to Be a Martyr February 23, 2015

In the latest of a string of cases involving discrimination against gay couples getting married, a judge in Washington said last week that a florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding had violated state anti-discrimination laws and that her religious beliefs did not give her a legal exemption from such laws. The florist is clearly seeking to become a martyr:

A florist rejected a settlement offer from Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Friday, days after a state judge ruled that her “relationship with Jesus” was not enough to justify her refusal to provide flower arrangements for the wedding of a same-sex couple.

The Wednesday ruling determined that the “religiously-motivated conduct” of Barronelle Stutzman, the Southern Baptist owner of Arlene’s flowers, was in “direct and insoluble conflict” with the state’s anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws.

On Friday, Stutzman told Ferguson in a letter released through her attorneys that the state’s settlement offer of a $2,000 penalty, a $1 payment for court and legal fees, and an agreement “not to discriminate in the future,” was akin to Judas’s betrayal of Jesus in the Bible. “You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver,” she wrote, adding, “that is something I will not do.”

“Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about,” she added. “It’s about freedom, not money.”

The judge had little choice here. The law says what it says and Washington does not even have a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that might provide a hypothetical basis for such an exemption. She can now challenge the constitutionality of the application of the anti-discrimination statute on appeal, but she is very unlikely to win such an argument. The state clearly has a compelling interest in preventing discrimination.

And I wish someone would explain why this case is any different from a florist who would refuse to do the flowers for an interracial wedding. Discrimination on the basis of both race and sexual orientation are equally forbidden by law in that state (though not at the federal level). There are lots of people with religious objections to interracial marriage just as there are with religious objections to same-sex marriage. Legally, the situations are absolutely identical. So if we’re going to grant religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws, we have essentially gutted those laws completely and turned back the clock more than 50 years. The Civil Rights Act’s employment, housing and public accommodation provisions would be rendered irrelevant for all practical purposes.

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