Discrimination hurts, and anyone who’s ever been singled out or rejected for being perceived as “different” knows it’s exhausting to keep shoring yourself up when other people try to cut you down.
WE were at a Mexican restaurant having lunch after doing some Christmas shopping at the mall when we decided to get married. It was December 2012, and Washington voters had just made marriage legal for same-sex couples. We had been together since 2004 and were living in Kennewick, in the first home we had purchased together. It felt like everything had been building to this moment where we were ready and able to honor our lifelong commitment to each other.
We wanted a romantic location for our wedding, so we reserved a lush garden setting for the ceremony, which was to be held Sept. 19, our ninth anniversary as a couple. We planned to have around a hundred of our closest friends and family join us for this special occasion. In March 2013, we contacted our favorite floral shop, Arlene’s Flowers in Richland.
We were shocked when the shop’s owner refused to sell us an arrangement for our ceremony. We weren’t seeking her blessing, only an elegant display that would complement the beachy theme we wanted for our wedding.
Instead of being met with the service we would expect any business owner to provide his or her customers, we were turned away for being gay. We had been buying each other flowers from Arlene’s Flowers for special occasions and celebrations for years. To us, we were just honoring the love we have for each other. But all of a sudden, it was as if we were no longer seen as Curt and Rob, or even regular customers, but as gay marriage personified.
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We were reminded how discrimination works: Individuals are categorized, depersonalized, labeled.
We decided to speak out at length now for the first time so that people can better understand just how the incident of discrimination has affected us.
When we first started planning our wedding, we had been confident that any business in this state that is open to the public would accept us — two gay men about to be legally married — as customers. Fears we had never had before began to crop up: Would other businesses turn us down for being gay? Then there was the possibility of local and national media coverage. What if our ceremony became the target of anti-gay activists from other states?
In response to these concerns, we moved up the date and decided to have the wedding in our home instead, with only 11 guests. We had a cake and flowers from a florist, but overall our July 2013 wedding was a much smaller, simpler celebration than we had originally intended.
Being rejected the way we were feels horrible, and we want to keep others from experiencing it, too. That’s why we partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union and decided to challenge this discrimination in court. We didn’t want Washington to become a state where gay and lesbian couples had to fear being turned away simply because of who they are. We didn’t want gay and lesbian couples to be forced to seek out LGBT-friendly florists and bakeries, or drive to more tolerant communities because all the wedding venues in their hometowns have turned them away for being gay.
We cannot have marriage equality that is separate but equal.
In February 2015, a Benton County Superior Court judge ruled that when our florist refused to serve us, she broke the law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The florist is appealing to the state Supreme Court, which is expected to hear the case early next year.
Bouncing back after you’ve been discriminated against takes resilience and support. Ever since the incident, we’ve reminded ourselves and each other to ignore negative comments people make and stand for our rights and the rights of others. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” said Eleanor Roosevelt.
Even so, discrimination hurts. Anyone who has ever been singled out or rejected for being perceived as “different” knows it’s exhausting to keep shoring yourself up when other people try to cut you down.
Washington voters approved the right for same-sex couples to marry by a statewide referendum in 2012, and this past June the U.S. Supreme Court reinforced that right for all across the country. But if businesses serving the general public are allowed to opt out of serving the millions of Americans who are gay, true equality will still be a long way off.