by Andrew Debter
Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, which means stores are decked out in pink and red. Soon millions of people will buy flowers and chocolate for their significant other as a sign of their love and affection. For florists, Valentine’s Day is the biggest day of the year. And yet this year, as the holiday rolls around, I can’t help but think of a particular florist whose livelihood is in jeopardy.
The person I am thinking of is Baronelle Stutzman, who has worked as a florist in Richland, Washington for 30 years. She is being sued for declining her services for a same-sex wedding ceremony due to her religious convictions. I heard her speak at an event hosted by the Alliance Defending Freedom last semester, which featured a panel of litigants in similar cases. After reading about her case and the legal controversy surrounding it in the news, it was fascinating to then hear her tell her story in her own words.
As she tells it, Rob, who requested the flowers for his same-sex wedding ceremony and is now suing her, was not just a friend but a good friend. She had been selling flowers to him for 10 years and had deeply enjoyed working alongside him in the creative process to provide unique flower arrangements for him over the years. She knew he was in a committed relationship with another man, and he knew that she was a Christian. That had never gotten in the way of their friendship or shared creative passion. It was only when he asked her to design a custom arrangement for the same sex wedding ceremony that she declined.
“If all he’d asked for were prearranged flowers, I’d gladly have provided them,” she said at the ADF event. “If the celebration were for his partner’s birthday, I’d have been delighted to pour my best into the challenge. But as a Christian, weddings have a particular significance.”
And yet she now faces two lawsuits from the state of Washington’s Attorney General and the ACLU. Both plaintiffs are suing her in both personal and corporate capacities, meaning that if she loses the case, her personal assets, her life savings, and her business are all at risk. She has requested her case be reviewed by the Washington State Supreme Court. That request is pending.
Despite all this, she ended her story, her voice wavering with emotion, saying “Rob was my friend. I still count him as a friend, even today, and dearly miss him.”
When I came to her talk, I expected to hear a story of how she courageously stood up for her convictions, and certainly hers was nothing less. But what caught me off guard was her soberly cheerful outlook and especially her obvious love towards those suing her. This Valentine’s Day, as retailers tell us that love is easy if you just follow the formula (love = roses + chocolate), may Baronelle’s courage remind us of what love – both of neighbor and of truth – really looks like when it’s hard.
Andrew Debter is the Development and Programs Officer at the Love and Fidelity Network.