Freedom to marry and dissent, rightly understood

For years, a central argument of those in favor of same-sex marriage has been that all Americans should be free to live as they choose. But does that freedom require the government to coerce people, against their consciences, into participating in or facilitating celebrations of same-sex relationships? In a growing number of incidents, the redefinition of marriage and state policies adding sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) to the lists of protected classes under non-discrimination statutes have led to the intolerance and intimidation of citizens who believe that marriage unites a man and a woman and that sexual relations are properly reserved for marriage. Same-sex marriage advocates, it seems, were in many cases engaged in a deception when they claimed that their causes was one of “live and let live.”

Now citizens who persist in dissent from the new elite orthodoxy are facing a new wave of government coercion and discrimination. State laws regarding sexual orientation and gender identity are being used to trump civil liberties such as freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.

Consider the case of Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene Flowers. In March 2013, longtime customers of hers asked her to arrange flowers for their same-sex wedding ceremony. As a matter of conscience, Stutzman had to decline because of her belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. While she was happy to arrange and sell them flowers for any other occasion, as she had for nine years, she could not in conscience use her artistic skills to help celebrate a same-sex ceremony.

A month later, Washington attorney general Bob Ferguson filed suit against Stutzman, contending that she had violated the state’s sexual-orientation antidiscrimination law. The state of Washington is seeking a $2,000 fine and a court order forcing Barronelle to prepare such arrangements against her conscience. In his zeal for the same-sex marriage cause, Ferguson has decided to use the power of the state to crush an opponent — treating her precisely as if her views make her the equivalent of a racist in the Jim Crow south.

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