Freedom of Association vs. Coercion in the Case of the Homophobic Florist

The Washington State Attorney General’s Office is suing a florist for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. According to the lawsuit, Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., illegally discriminated against a customer on the basis of his sexual orientation.

While there’s no question that Stutzman violated the law, should such a law even exist in the first place? If Mrs. Stutzman owns a flower shop, shouldn’t she–and she alone–be able to decide with whom she does business?

Besides, it’s not like there aren’t other local florists who would happily accept gay and lesbian customers. Businesses that discriminate don’t last very long in a free market.

If a florist refuses to provide flowers for same-sex weddings, gay and gay-friendly customers can vote with their feet and patronize florists who will. Apparently for some, though, the concept of freedom of association is too difficult to understand, or is even undesirable.

Instead of allowing the market to work as it naturally does, the State of Washington (as well as other states and municipalities with similar laws) feels it must batter homophobic business owners into submission.

After all, why use voluntary methods such as boycotts or persuasion when one can use lawyers and courts and threatening letters instead–all of it backed up by the policeman’s gun?

And before anyone accuses me of it, this has little to do with homophobia. This is about coercion and its contemporary metonym, the State.

Coercion done on behalf of a traditionally oppressed group is still coercion. It does not become any less ugly or despicable because the people committing it happen to harbor no particular hatred toward homosexuals.

Why gay and lesbians would entrust the State–which has long been their greatest oppressor–to protect them from homophobia is beyond me.

Without the State, homophobia lacks teeth–it can neither imprison gay men nor censor lesbian literature. The 70-year-old, morbidly obese trailer park resident who flips the channel every time a Will & Grace rerun comes on (which, accurately or not, is how I picture the typical homophobe) could not dream of possessing the kind of coercive powers reserved to the State and its enforcers.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The solution to bigotry and intolerance is not coercion, but persuasion and reason. If Mrs. Stutzman is sincere in her opposition to same-sex marriage, suing her isn’t going to change her mind. If anything, she’ll become a martyr for anti-gay activists protesting “homosexual oppression.”

The State of Washington should let Stutzman discriminate to her heart’s content, and let her bear the economic and social consequences of that discrimination. After all, no person exists in a vacuum.

There may come a time when Mrs. Stutzman will require the services of a gay or lesbian-owned business. Will they have the pleasure of turning her away–or will that be illegal discrimination as well?

Addendum: The ACLU is also filing a lawsuit against Stutzman, on behalf of the gay couple she turned away. It’s a shame the ACLU isn’t willing to defend Mrs. Stutzman’s right to run her business according to her own beliefs.

This entry was posted in Discrimination, Free Market, GLBT, Property Rights and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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