All too often, the consequences of redefining marriage have forced creative professionals to defend their First Amendment rights in court.
That’s what happened to floral artist Barronelle Stutzman. Soon after the State of Washington redefined marriage, a longtime customer and friend named Rob asked her to “do the flowers” for his same-sex wedding.
For nearly a decade, Barronelle had designed countless arrangements for Rob. He would give her a message to communicate through the flowers and tell her to “do her thing.”
Because of her faith, celebrating same-sex marriage was one message Barronelle could not in good conscience express through her floral art. So, she politely declined Rob’s request and gave him the names of three nearby floral shops. The two hugged and Rob left.
After seeing a post about this on social media, the Washington Attorney General sued Barronelle. Then, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) joined in, and Barronelle has been in court for over six years. Barronelle recently appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping to reverse the Washington Supreme Court’s decision that threatens to leave her bankrupt.
Critics of people like Barronelle and her fellow ADF client, Jack Phillips, often use a line of reasoning that commentator Erick Erickson has characterized, “Bake the cake, you bigot.”
But this argument assumes that Barronelle is simply selling flowers, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Barronelle is a floral designer. She learned the art of floral design from her mother, who owned the family business, Arlene’s Flowers. As a Christian, Barronelle uses her artistic skills to honor God. And like all artists, she speaks through her custom creations.
Weddings hold a special significance to Barronelle because they allow her to create custom art that celebrates a man and a woman joined together by God in a relationship of eternal importance. She also sees these custom arrangements as the highest form of floral art.
Over the years, Barronelle has designed floral arrangements for countless weddings. Her creative process begins with getting to know the couple and their story. Like any good artist, she thrives on this. She uses her artistic skill to tailor her designs to capture the couple’s personality and convey celebration for their union.
Barronelle’s custom wedding work includes not just the bouquets for the bride and bridesmaids, but also arches, boutonnieres, pew markers, and centerpieces.
Barronelle’s participation in the ceremony goes beyond designing the arrangements. She often positions her art at the ceremony venue, adorns the bridal party with her designs, and attends the ceremony itself to ensure that her flowers remain beautiful throughout. Barronelle has even spent time cleaning the bride’s dress and calming nervous parents. She does whatever it takes to make the wedding a success.
It is wrong for the government to force Barronelle to use her art to participate in celebrating a view of marriage that violates her faith. If that weren’t bad enough, it is especially cruel for the state to compel her to violate her conscience under threat of bankruptcy.