Gay Marriage

Gay Couple Lost $7.91 When Florist Turned Them Down. The Florist May Lose Much, Much More.

In Michigan, a more serious case of anti-gay discrimination ends peacefully without lawyers.


Not speech.
Credit: srsphoto / photo on flickr

Two more cases where sexual orientation has led to refusal of service for religious reasons are in the news. First, as expected, a judge has ruled a florist in Washington cannot refuse to serve gay couples. "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," Judge Alexander C. Ekstrom ruled. He rejected the defendant's claims that arranging flowers is a form of expression and therefore requiring her to do so for a same-sex marriage violated her right to free speech. From the Washington Post:

The penalty against [Baronelle] Stutzman and her business will be settled via summary judgment, or without a full trial. [Robert] Ingersoll and [Curt] Freed, who have since married, had sued for $7.91 (the cost of driving to find a new florist). Stutzman also faces a fine of up to $2,000 under Washington's anti-discrimination law, as well as the cost of legal fees.

Stutzman's attorney said that she'll be appealing the order.

"The ruling basically said that if you dare to not celebrate same-sex marriage because it violates your religious convictions, that the government has a right to bring about your personal and professional ruin," Kristen Waggoner, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, told The Los Angeles Times. "Her home, her business … her life savings and retirement, these are all in jeopardy … all because of her deeply held religious views."

Yes, that's right. Even the plaintiffs acknowledge that the actual harms from getting turned away by Stutzman amount to less than $10. But I bet those legal fees are going to be a lot more than $7.91. Ingersoll and Freed were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, and Washington's attorney general also sued.

Another case in Michigan had the potential to be much more serious, yet the absence of laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation didn't prevent an outcome where both sides were able to get what they needed. In Roseville, a suburb of Detroit, a pediatrician refused to treat a baby with two moms. From the Fox affiliate in Detroit:

"It was embarrassing, it was humiliating and here we are, new parents trying to protect her," Jami [Contreras] said. "And we know this happens in the world and we're completely prepared for this to happen other places. But not at our six-day-old's wellness appointment."

Bay's parents proceeded with the appointment with the other doctor then found another pediatric group for their baby.

"When we started calling other pediatricians my first thing on the phone was, we're lesbian moms - is this okay with you," Krista [Contreras] said.

Rather than turning to lawyers, they turned to social media and thus the case has gotten a lot of notice. The doctor subsequently sent a letter to the couple apologizing for not speaking to them directly after turning them away, but she said she prayed and felt that she would not "be able to develop the personal patient-doctor relationships" that she normally does.

If Americans were polled on the matter, I imagine more people would say it's wrong or should be against the law for the pediatrician to turn away customers over sexual orientation than the florist. But it both cases, a diverse marketplace offered alternatives.

(Hat tip to Felix Finch on the Detroit case)