Punitive Intolerance Is No Way to Preserve Pluralism

Late last week, the Supreme Court ratified an injustice. The fact that I understand why they did it—and that the case was going to be difficult to win on the merits—does not make it any easier to accept the ultimate outcome. But it is, I think, a teaching moment, one that can demonstrate how the law won’t always address unfairness, and how the unwillingness to address gray areas of the law (perhaps in support of larger legal goals) can create injustice.

I’m talking about the case of Barronelle Stutzman and the wages of punitive American intolerance. Barronelle’s legal ordeal began more than eight years ago, when the attorney general of Washington sued her business, Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts, and Barronelle personally for refusing to make and sell custom flower arrangements for a gay wedding. 

The actual facts of the case cry out for patience and tolerance. Barronelle had long served a gay customer named Rob Ingersoll. Their relationship spanned almost 10 years, and she’d designed a number of custom-designed floral arrangements to commemorate milestones in his life. Then, in March 2013, Ingersoll asked Barronelle to “do the flowers” for his wedding to his fiancé.

Barronelle, a Christian who believes God ordained marriage as the union of a man and a woman, had never been asked to design floral arrangements for a gay wedding. After thinking through the matter and praying with her husband, she decided that couldn’t in good conscience use her artistic gifts to celebrate a union that she believed to be scripturally wrong. 

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