My Way or the Arizona Highway

ah1A couple of gay dudes wanted to get married in the sovereign state of Washington about a year ago, a process that is legal there. In between lining up a caterer, hiring a limo and picking out invitation stationery, the men got a shot-down from their preferred florist, Arlene’s Flowers of Richmond. The reason: her “relationship with Jesus Christ” prevented her from serving sinners. How do we know this? The couple, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, filed a lawsuit. The lawyer for the flower shop, Justin Bristol, said forcing his client to sell flowers for a gay wedding violated her constitutional rights of freedom of speech, association and religious exercise. “She is one of the few people left today willing to stand by her convictions rather than compromise her beliefs,” Bristol said. “She’s a very nice lady and doesn’t have a discriminatory bone in her body.” (Sidebar: she must then be an invertebrate.)

Just a few months ago a Lesbian couple in New Mexico went through a similar episode, this time from a photographer, Elaine Huguenin. The photog claimed that shooting the wedding would “make her celebrate something her religion tells her is wrong (and) would hijack her right to free speech.” The couple went elsewhere for their photo services, but not before filing a lawsuit.

Which brings me to the latest craziness out of Arizona, a bastion of paranoia that could financially screw itself out of a successful Super Bowl next year if the homophobia continues apace. The legislature there has passed a bill that would allow business owners to cite religious beliefs as a legal justification for denying service to same-sex couples. Gentlemen – start your litigation.

To me it seems a lead-pipe cinch that a challenge to the law, should Governor Jan Brewer sign the bill (not a lock given her veto of a religious freedom bill last year) would cut a favorable path through the courts. After all, the bill unequivocally legalizes discrimination. And yet, I believe the aggrieved parties of such a law should stand down, forget litigation, and turn to Yelp, Angie’s List, Travel & Leisure and all the other outlets that praise and denounce purveyors of matrimonial services. Fuck ‘em. If they won’t make a wedding cake for you, go somewhere else, and tell your friends and colleagues that you heard the bakery might have been cited for an e-coli violation. XYZ Florist won’t come through with the arrangement of your dreams? Go down three blocks to an FTD, and while you’re traveling tell your aging Aunt that you heard XYZ secretly steals back flowers from funerals and reuses them on prom night.

From what I’ve read, there is a robust body of thinking that concludes the right of some people to deny services is sacrosanct. “Photographers, writers, singers, actors, painters and others who create First Amendment-protected speech must have the right to decide which commissions to take and which to reject,” the libertarian Cato Institute and two law professors — Eugene Volokh of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Dale Carpenter of the University of Minnesota — told the New Mexico Supreme Court in the aftermath of the big “Florist Denial Assault of 2013.”

It makes sense. You don’t want to serve queers and Lesbos? You don’t need a law. The baker can claim his oven is on the fritz. Or he ran out of yeast. The photographer can say she has a prior engagement, or expects to have pink-eye on the wedding day. Bigots who want to deny services don’t need a law to prevent them from practicing bigotry.

To the inconvenienced, forget litigation – it only draws undeserved attention to a bereft cause. Take your valued business elsewhere and stick a dagger wherever you can along the way.

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