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Wash. State Court Violates Florist's Religious Freedom to Opt Out of Gay Wedding

In a unanimous decision issued Thursday, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the fines against florist Barronelle Stutzman for refusing to sell flowers to a long-time customer for his same-sex wedding. The court rejected her claims regarding freedom of speech, freedom of association, and free exercise of religion in order to uphold a state non-discrimination law.

Stutzman's claims, like those of other small business owners who have refused service for homosexual weddings — but emphatically not to gay or lesbian people as a class — rely on her argument that she does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, but only denies service in specific cases that would implicate her in public speech, namely the wedding of a man to another man. The court acknowledged that this florist "has served gay and lesbian customers in the past for other, non-wedding-related flower orders."

Nevertheless, the court claimed that Stutzman's denial of service specifically for a wedding constituted discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. "We reject Stutzman's proposed distinction between status and conduct fundamentally linked to that status," the unanimous decision declared.

This claim — that a gay wedding is "fundamentally linked to" the status of being attracted to members of the same sex — stretches the truth (do all gay people, or even all straight people, want to get married?), and does not defeat Stutzman's claim that she does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

Here are the facts: Stutzman served Robert Ingersoll flowers for at least nine years, knowing that they were intended for his gay partner, Curt Freed. The florist only denied Ingersoll flowers specifically for his wedding, on the basis that she considered marriage to be between a man and a woman and that serving his wedding would indicate a public agreement that a ceremony between a man and a man also constituted a wedding.

There is a difference between selling flowers to a person and arranging flowers for that person's event. If the event carried a message fundamentally at odds with the florist's belief — if for instance someone asked a gay florist to arrange flowers for a Westboro Baptist Church event, or a Jewish florist to decorate a neo-Nazi event — denial of that specific service should not fall under public accommodations laws.

There are numerous reasons for this would-be exemption. As Stutzman argued, Americans have basic rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution, including the right to free speech, the right to free expression of religion, and the right to free association.

Each of these rights should apply to this situation. Stutzman's being forced to serve a gay wedding constitutes compelled speech that the vows of one man to one man constitute a wedding. She does not believe this, and therefore she should have a free speech right to deny service.