Washington Judge To Florist: 'Relationship With Jesus' Not Good Reason For Being A Bigot
Bad news for bigots. Again.
On Wednesday, Washington State Superior Court Judge Alexander C. Ekstrom ruled that a "relationship with Jesus" is not a good enough excuse for a business owner to discriminate against The Gay, even if her Bible tells her so. Because Washington residents must answer to a higher authority: the law o' the land.
Barronelle Stutzman and her husband are the proud owners of Arlene's Flowers, Inc., as well as Southern Baptists, required to comply with the Southern Baptist Convention Resolutions, which include "an explicit rejection of same-sex marriage as a civil right." Thus, according to Stutzman, she is prohibited by her "firmly held religious belief" from participating in gay weddings.
Oh, but only sort of.
Stutzman draws a distinction between the provision of raw materials for such an event (or even flower arrangements that she receives pre-made from wholesalers) and the provision of flower arrangements that she has herself arranged for the same event. Said more precisely, Stutzman does not believe that she can, consistent with tenets of her faith (as expressed in the Resolution of the SBC), use her professional skill to make an arrangement of flowers and other materials for use at a same-sex wedding. […] Stutzman believes that such participation would constitute a demonstration of approval for the wedding itself.
Said more precisely than that, she has no problem taking kosher gay money, as long as she doesn't have to put any effort into making sinful gay boutonnieres. You can do that on your own hell-bound time.
In fact, Stutzman had no problem taking approximately $4,500 from Robert Ingersoll, the gay man who’d been spending his gay cash at her for-straights-only business over the course of nine years. He liked to buy flower arrangements for his gay partner, Curt Freed, as Stutzman well knew. So when Washington State legalized marriage equality, Ingersoll went to his regular florist of all those years to tell her he was getting married and of course wanted to get his gay wedding flowers from her. And she responded as you’d imagine:
I just put my hands on his and told him because of my relationship with Jesus Christ I couldn’t do that, couldn’t do his wedding.
Funny how Jesus had been cool all those years with her taking money from Ingersoll for gay Valentine's Day arrangements and gay anniversary arrangements and gay birthday arrangements, but all of a sudden, when it came to gay wedding arrangements, Jesus drew a line in the sand. A faint sort of blurry line with loopholes big enough to ride a camel through:
Stutzman did state in her deposition testimony that had Ingersoll communicated to her that he wanted to purchase raw materials (variously described as “stems” and “branches” throughout the depositions and declarations), she would have provided those items.
Statesman then "instituted an unwritten policy" that "we don’t take same sex marriages." It's not clear whether her "unwritten policy" included those same loopholes that Jesus was still all right with her taking gay money for other special occasions.
Ingersoll and his partner-then-husband filed a lawsuit for discrimination against Stutzman and her business. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson also brought a claim for violation of the state's Consumer Protection Act, because businesses cannot discriminate against consumers on the basis of their sexual orientation. That's when Stutzman realized this had all just been a big unpleasant "misunderstanding" and asked the Court to throw out the whole case because she isn't really a bigot. The Court did not exactly see it that way.
Stutzman claimed that when she explained to Ingersoll that her "relationship with Jesus" forbade her from having anything to do with gay weddings, that's not really what she meant. She could still turn a profit by selling him the items he wanted; she just couldn't assemble them herself. Jesus is fickle like that. It's a shame Ingersoll didn't better understand the Bible's fine print so he could have asked "hey, can you gimme some pretty stuff for my wedding to make my own arrangements?" in just the right way. Now that she knows Ingersoll didn't expect her to personally perform the ceremony or lube up the happy couple on their wedding night, this whole lawsuit should just be thrown out, because everything's cool now, and if Ingersoll ever gets gay married again, she will happily sell him some branches and twigs.
One of Stutzman's ridiculous defenses is that, per her faith, she's not hating the sinner, just the sin. She was simply acting in "opposition to conduct (same sex-marriages), rather than opposition to or discrimination against gay or lesbian individuals generally (the status of sexual orientation)." How convenient. Except, too bad for Stutzman, "this distinction between conduct and status has previously been rejected in discrimination claims."
In other words, you can rationalize your bigotry to yourself with semantics until you're blue in the face, but the U.S. American justice system doesn't recognize your bullshit as in any way valid.
In case that one doesn't work (and it doesn't), Stutzman has another really creative -- some might even say artistic -- defense of why she didn't want to make gay flower arrangements.
Defendants argue that the act of arranging flowers is inherently artistic and expressive and thus protected speech. Statesman asserts that, after consulting with her customers, she creates floral arrangements that are designed to communicate the couple’s vision or theme for the event. Defendants have attached to their declaration materials in support of this proposition, including reference material explaining the religious significance of flower arrangements dating back to the ancient Egyptians and instructional material on flower arranging. They argue that this artistic expression is protected speech.
Thus, claims Stutzman, she and her business "cannot be compelled to 'speak' through arranged flowers at a same-sex wedding."
Excuse us while we pause for just a moment to roll our eyes at the absurdity of invoking ancient Egyptians to explain her First Amendment relationship with Jesus. Not to mention that if the arrangements she makes communicate the vision of her customers, isn't it her customers whose free speech is oppressed? Hmmm. Let's see what the Court thinks about that.
Oh, the Court thinks that is also bullshit:
The Defendants offer no persuasive authority in support of a free speech exception (be it creative, artistic, or otherwise) to anti-discrimination laws applied to public accommodations. […] The existing jurisprudence on this issue, including the most recent and comparable case, Elane Photography, is soundly against the Defendants.
Fine, what about the Free Exercise Clause? Nope, the Court tells her, “Religious motivation does not excuse compliance with the law.” Yeah, but there are religious exemptions for ministers and religious organizations, Stutzman argues. But a corporation that sells flowers is not one of those, the Court explains to her slowly, with small words so she has a better chance of understanding them.
How about free association? Would the Court buy that? No, the Court would not. "The result is no different if the asserted interest is freedom of association," Judge Ekstrom wrote.
Finally, having gone through Stutzman's list of excuses and defenses and rejecting each and every one of them, the Court makes a very pointed point before officially telling Stutzman she loses on ALL the grounds:
For over 135 years, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that laws may prohibit religiously motivated action, as opposed to belief. In trade and commerce, and more particularly when seeking to prevent discrimination in public accommodations, the Courts have confirmed the power of the Legislative Branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief.
It doesn't matter what your "relationship with Jesus" is. The law says business owners do not get to discriminate against The Gay, so no, there's really no legal justification for a lady who sells flowers to do that. Not free speech or ancient Egyptians or "I'm not really a bigot! This is all just a misunderstanding."
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson summed up the Court's ruling:
“The law is clear: If you choose to provide a service to couples of the opposite sex, you must provide the same service to same-sex couples."
That's the end of it. Or at least it should be. Although we imagine there will be an appeal so a higher Court can also tell Stutzman she is wrong about everything. And then perhaps another appeal and another ... until Stutzman, like all her fellow bigots who are having equality crammed down their throat, runs out of judges to tell her she is wrong, equality is the law of the land, get over it and deal.
[Image via LGBTQ Nation]