Refusing to do a gay wedding turns into a grievance gold mine.
Back when we were debating gay marriage, one of the side arguments in favor of it was that it would be an economic boon for the weddings industry.
But in a bizarre twist that nobody could have foreseen, those really making a windfall right now are the few businesses that refuse to do gay weddings.
There was that rural Indiana pizza shop, that said religious conscience meant it wouldn’t deliver pizza to a gay wedding. This led to a backlash on Yelp and in hostile phone calls. But most revelatory was the backlash to the backlash, an online fundraiser that netted the pizza-shop owners $842,592 — more than they could have made in a decade of rural pizza-making.
The same phenomenon now is going on in Richland in Eastern Washington. Two years ago a florist told a gay couple she wouldn’t sell them flowers for their wedding due to her relationship with Jesus Christ. This got her sued for discrimination by the state. Last month a court ruled overwhelmingly for the state, and fined her $1,000 plus $1 in court costs.
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The florist, Baronelle Stutzman, is defiant that she won’t pay.
“You don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money,” she wrote to the state’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson. “You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do.”
What she and her supporters did is set up a GoFundMe page. In the past week, in our post-Indiana inflamed environment, it has raised more than $143,000 from nearly 4,000 donors. That’s quite a haul for a $1,000 fine!
I’ve written before that I’m ambivalent about this florist case. Legally, it’s open and shut. Public businesses in our state have to treat gay customers the same as straight, period.
That there’s no legal leg to stand on is why Republicans are racing around trying to create one in various states. They tried it here, too: In response to the Richland florist case two years ago, 11 state senators proposed our own Indiana-like law that would have created a Jim Crow-style “right to deny services” to gays and lesbians.
But in the florist case there isn’t a truly weighty religious-conscience dilemma, such as a doctor being asked to honor a patient’s wish to hasten death. Or a soldier being asked to kill in a war he considers unjust. It’s flowers.
Just as it wasn’t that big a deal for the gay couple to get flowers elsewhere (they testified it cost them all of $7.91 in lost time and mileage to get to another florist), it wouldn’t be that big a deal for Stutzman to have an employee who’d be willing to arrange flowers for the occasional gay wedding.
But nobody budged, so here we are.
With all this money pouring in, maybe we’ve arrived unwittingly at the uniquely American solution to this debate. Let the market decide.
In his ruling, the judge highlighted that one issue with Stuzman’s shop was that while she had a stated anti-discrimination policy, her stance against doing gay weddings was “unwritten.” It was a secret to the public and the staff.
What if instead, pizza stores, florists and cake makers who don’t want to do gay weddings just advertise as so? Put up a sign: “Sorry, no gay weddings.” They’d get an avalanche of criticism. But as we’re now seeing, there’d also be a ton of financial support.
I have my own hunch which is the more sustainable business plan.
But I never would have predicted this: On Tuesday afternoon, the GoFundMe page for the woman who wouldn’t do flowers for a gay wedding was getting 40 donations per hour. She was covering what she owes in fines every 35 minutes. In a sort of Beleaguered Christian Business Association, the Indiana pizza shop also announced it was donating a portion of its near-million-dollar windfall to Stutzman.
Strange times, when you can make more in business turning away customers than in serving them.