I am a conservative who supports gay marriage. Conservatism, after all, stems from a belief in liberty and a belief that man should be able to live as freely as possible. That said, precisely because of my fondness for a live-and-let-live philosophy, many of us on the right who support gay marriage now feel somewhat betrayed.
Throughout the gay-marriage debate, proponents assured us that all they sought was the equal ability to marry and that it would not affect the lives of others, noting private entities would not be forced to service gay marriage.
That assurance lasted, well, about as long as my great-uncle Tito’s vow to give up gambling at the racetrack.
Take the case of Barronelle Stutzman, a soft-spoken 70-year-old woman who owns and runs Arlene’s Flowers, a floral shop in Richland, Washington. In March 2013, shortly after gay marriage became legal in the state, one of Stutzman’s repeat customers, Robert Ingersoll, asked Stutzman to serve as the florist for his upcoming marriage ceremony to his male partner.
Stutzman, a committed Christian who feels the Bible prohibits gay marriage, wrestled with the decision and thought about it for a period of time. She describes it as a “real struggle” but, as much as she “loved” Ingersoll, whom she calls a “really special person,” decided she could not go through with it and gently informed her client. Much to Stutzman’s surprise, the news instantly spread like wildfire on social media. Horrific insults and even threats to Stutzman poured in from all over the country.
The state’s attorney general, in an unprecedented and bizarre move, filed suit against Arlene’s Flowers, merely upon hearing about it through social media. Then the ACLU added to the Stutzman’s nightmare, as did Ingersoll and his partner, suing not only Arlene’s Flowers but Stutzman herself, in her personal capacity, meaning all of her personal assets and income are on the line. She can lose not only her business but her home, her savings and even the income she has to put food on the table. This, despite the fact that other florists in the area were willing and able to service the wedding — and the couple even received offers for free floral arrangements. This past week, a judge ruled that Stutzman violated the state’s anti-discrimination and consumer-protection laws and approved the plaintiffs’ request seeking damages and attorneys’ fees from Stutzman personally.
Worth noting, Stutzman never discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation — in fact, despite knowing Ingersoll was gay, Stutzman served him as a client for nearly a decade, as well as other LBGT clients, and she employed members of the LBGT community. It was only once she was asked to service a wedding, contrary to her religious beliefs, that she could not, in good conscience, honor the request.
Our nation was founded by men and women who wished to worship freely. Its Founding Fathers, continuing that prerogative, made freedom of religion the top amendment in the Constitution. But when a private citizen is coerced, bullied and threatened into acting against her religious convictions, even though those convictions pose no harm to another — and no significant inconvenience — one has to ask: Does the First Amendment still exist?
Story after story shows this is widespread. Aaron and Melissa Klein, bakers in Oregon, refused to serve a gay wedding. After a barrage of attacks, Melissa is now forced to bake out of their home, and they face financial ruin. Mozilla’s CEO, tech giant Brendan Eich, was forced to leave the company he founded after furor erupted over small a political donation made years ago in support of traditional marriage.
In 2012, nine states allowed gay marriage. Today, 36 states do. And with the Supreme Court ready to rule on gay marriage this summer, likely in favor, we will see additional witch hunts against the likes of similar wedding florists, bakeries, photographers and venues.
Gay marriage kicked off in Florida in January. Which businesses stand to suffer the way Arlene’s Flowers has? How many more will face criticism, attacks or financial ruin simply for harmlessly adhering to their religious convictions, an act fully protected by the U.S. Constitution?
If the pendulum was simply meant to shift into equal position, what now of its shift all the way to the left? If live-and-let-live is the philosophy used to sell us on gay marriage, what of Stutzman’s right to do the same?
So much for tolerance. “Live-and-let-live? Only if you agree with us.”
A.J. Delgado is a Miami-based writer and lawyer. She writes about politics and culture.