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When Your Foes Are Cashing In on Your Outrage, Maybe Reconsider the Signaling

The latest incredibly important news on cakes and flowers.

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"Actually, I support gay marriage. I'm just refusing in the hopes of cashing in on the backlash."."
Credit: Ivonnewierink | Dreamstime.com

A few related tidbits about the current culture war battle over who can refuse service to whom:

• Washington State florist Baronelle Stutzman was recently fined $1,000 and ordered to pay $1 in court costs for refusing to provide her goods and services for a gay wedding. She had religious objections to gay marriage. She had no issue with selling flowers to gay customers, but would not service a gay wedding. This put her at odds with the state's public accommodation laws.

As with the recent Memories Pizza mess in Indiana, a fund had been set up for people to support Stutzman financially. The fund was created in February, but took off after Memories Pizza was attacked for the cultural crime of telling a reporter they wouldn't provide imaginary pizzas for a hypothetical gay wedding, a thing that is never going to happen anyway. More than $800,000 has been raised for the pizza place. For Stuzman's shop, Arlene's Flowers, more than $80,000 has been raised from more than 1,800 donors. More than half the money came in just last week, according to the Seattle Times.

So some folks who have signaled their anger online that places like Memories Pizza have declared a right to discriminate are also angry that these businesses are now getting rewarded for it. That's what happens with a culture war, folks. You send up your signals and they send up theirs, and on and on and on. People did not want Memories Pizza or Arlene's Flowers to be punished for the principles they hold, and so they were willing to use their financial backing to counteract the actions of those who do want to punish them. Ignore this signal at your peril. Regardless of whether people want to see pizza parlors or bakeries or florists turning away gay couples getting married, there are enough of them offended by the idea of driving them out of business to counteract these shaming and boycotting efforts. And it goes both ways. How many gay or gay-friendly folks have made sure to do businesses with companies who supported them and had been targeted by the religious right back in the 1990s or so?

• Meanwhile, remember in Colorado when a Christian gentlemen tried to turn the tables by filing a complaint against a bakery for refusing to bake a cake with anti-gay messages on it for him? He claimed he was discriminated against on the basis of his religion. The case has been tossed. The logic here is that the bakery had the right to refuse to write messages they found offensive, even if they came from the Bible. That's not discriminating against the customer's religion. They offered to make him cakes but wouldn't add the messages. The customer, William Jack, said he would appeal and added "I find it offensive that the Bible is censored from the public arena," which is not true (and that's not what censorship means).

Unfortunately the cake battles have developed into a fight over what is and isn't speech, and freedom of association barely factors in. A wedding cake is not speech, the government says. But once you start adding text and images to the cake, that part is speech. Some bakers who actually make the cakes disagree. They argue that simply making a wedding cake for a gay couple is a show of support for the concept of the union, even if they don't know the actual people involved.

That's why it's unfortunate that concepts of freedom of association aren't factoring in here. It really shouldn't matter what parts of a cake count as "speech." Bakers (and any other business) should be free to decide whether or not they want to provide their services to their customers. After all, customers are free to organize and make the reverse decision as consumers. If the customers hold all the cards, why are they so worried about what some little florist or pizza parlor is doing? Perhaps it's because of the backlash to the backlash. All that money heading to those businesses is a warning to tweeting boycotters and state bureaucrats that they're by no means the final word.