This is a blog post I've been holding for nearly a week. It concerns my home state of Washington suing a florist who refused to service the same-sex wedding of a long-time customer (now that we have marriage equality here). The story itself is a sad one... and most certainly controversial... but that's not the reason I've been sitting on it. The reason is that I just can't form a solid conclusion on the subject, and it's been driving me crazy.
But before we go there, an interlude...
My personal beliefs don't allow me to give money to strangers when I can't verify how the money will be used. So, for example, when a homeless person approaches and asks me for my spare change so they can eat, I always say "I'm sorry, I don't have anything I can give you." This way, even if I do have some change, I'm not lying because (philosophically) I really can't give it to them. They might use the money to purchase something harmful to themselves or others, and then I would be a party to it. Instead, if they're hungry, I'll offer to buy them some food to eat. This is a win-win solution because they get the food they need and I get to help out without violating my beliefs.
But, like everything in life, it's not really so cut-and-dry. Can you ever truly verify what happens to the money you give? Let's say I help a stranded motorist buy gas so he can get home. But once he gets home, he siphons the gas from the car and uses it to burn his house down with his wife inside because she was cheating on him. And what if the owner of the gas station uses their profits to bet on dog-fights which torture and kill innocent animals? By trying to help, I just enabled two people to commit terrible acts, even though I never intended it to happen that way.
The reality is that the only way i can truly control what happens with the money I earn is to never spend it. Since that's not really an option, I just do the best I can to be as responsible as I can... then hope for the best. Money may indeed be the root of all evil, but I'm trying to stem the tide where I can.
With all this in mind, I feel like condemning the florist shop owner is kinda hypocritical. Her beliefs don't include same-sex marriage, so isn't she just doing the best she can to stem the tide? And, since this is America, shouldn't she have the freedom to follow her religious convictions so she won't be responsible for contributing to something she feels is wrong? In her own way, she may even be trying to keep her long-time customer from doing something she considers harmful. And for this she's going to get sued?
That doesn't seem fair. For better or worse, American citizens have the freedom to be raging bigots if they want to be. So why shouldn't this freedom extend to shop owners? If they want to hide behind religion so they can avoid doing the right thing, shouldn't that be their right? It's certainly the right of the customer to let the entire community know that the florist is a homophobic piece of shit. And since more and more people are standing on the right side of history to support love and equality, won't the florist eventually go out of business because she'll keep losing customers? Why do we need to bring in the lawyers and start a lawsuit when the problem will solve itself?
Perhaps we should have faith in the free market to work these things out. If businesses want to live in the dark ages, let them die out as society leaves them behind. New businesses will take their place, and life goes on.
I may not always agree with Democrats (or Republicans, for that matter), but there is one thing President Obama said as he was campaigning that really resonated with me when it comes to a person building a business... they didn't build it alone. This was explained beautifully by Elizabeth Warren...
"I hear all this, you know, 'Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.' No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."
It's this overriding truth which has me not giving a fuck if the florist's freedom to be a bigot is infringed upon. That gay couple she refuses to service? Their tax dollars contributed to the system that allows her business to exist in the first place. But, more importantly to me, my tax dollars contribute to the system that allows her business to exist. The idea that some homophobic asshole can benefit from my tax dollars, then turn around and discriminate against customers holding a perfectly legal event? It pisses me off. Washington has legalized marriage equality. If you don't like it, then pack up your flowers and move to a state where you can benefit from tax dollars that support your bigotry. Otherwise, you deserve to get sued.
Well...The bigger truth here is that my tax dollars are going to crap I loathe all the time. I'm a vegetarian. I believe the meat industry is environmentally hostile and killing this planet. And yet beef, pork, and poultry mega-corporations are getting billions in tax subsidies. This is how Burger King can sell a steroid-ridden "Whopper Jr." for $1.29, when that's a tiny fraction of how much it actually costs to make. For oh so many reasons, it should cost much, much, much more, but the US government uses my tax dollars to keep it cheap, and that pisses me off. Much like the way poultry subsidies allow Chick-fil-A to make record profits... which they then use to support hate groups. It's a hard pill to swallow, but I'm sure there are things I do like supporting with my tax dollars that other people don't believe in, so I guess it all balances out.
And if my tax dollars are already supporting a bunch of things I don't believe in, then what difference does it make that a florist I don't believe in is getting tax money?
What if this bigoted florist was refusing to sell flowers for a wedding because the bride and groom were black? Or short? Or left-handed? Gay friends have told me that their sexuality is not some "lifestyle choice" they make, but instead a part of who they are. They were born that way, and nothing can change it. Just as straight people don't "choose" to be straight, they don't "choose" to be gay. I choose to believe them... partly because they are my friends and I trust them... but mostly because it would be fucking insane to think that homosexuality is some kind of massive deception by gays around the world and throughout all of history. And, since it would be discriminatory and illegal to deny floral service to a bride and groom with red hair wanting to get legally married... it should be discriminatory and illegal to deny floral service to a groom and a groom with gay hair wanting to get legally married.
We have chosen to make laws against discrimination. Here in Washington, we have chosen to extend that to include discrimination against same-sex marriage. If you break the law, there should be consequences. Like getting your ass sued.
And it goes on and on.
Marriage equality is something I support 100%. Love is love, and gay couples have every right to celebrate their love in marriage the same way that straight couples do. Anything less is not fair... it's not right... and it's not human. I believe this so strongly that I want to cheer on our Attorney General as he fights discrimination in Washington State. That's his job, after all.
But a part of me will always wonder if this is the best approach. She's withholding flowers... not urgent medical care... not life-sustaining goods... not some other critical need... it's flowers. Might it be better to just boycott her homophobic ass and let nature take its course? Let her business inevitably die out on its own instead of turn this florist into some kind of misplaced martyr for "religious freedom" that slows down our march to equality acceptance? That seems like it might be a better route to take.
This is not about fucking flowers... this is about dignity, respect, and human rights! It's about...
Oh hell. At some point I really just have to stop this.