Barronelle Stutzman runs a flower shop in Richland, Washington. After enjoying a friendly relationship with customer Rob Ingersoll for some ten years, she declined to provide the flower arrangements for his wedding to another man. When the state attorney general’s office heard about the case, it moved against her, as did the American Civil Liberties Union. Both are currently suing Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers. Represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, she awaits news from a federal court about whether she can continue what she describes as the work of her heart. — KJL
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What does your flower business mean to you?
Stutzman: I have worked in the floral industry for nearly 40 years. I bought the business from my mom. It is my way of using God’s gift to convey personal messages. Many times people can’t say what they mean, but flowers can say it all when words fail. It is a mission field in many ways, because it allows me to use my artistic skill to bless others.
Lopez: Is winning or losing a matter of your livelihood?
Stutzman: It would certainly make a big difference in my livelihood. Not only in terms of my income, but personally. I have dealt with some of our customers for three generations. I don’t view the case as being about “winning” or “losing.” I don’t have a choice in this because I can’t violate my personal religious beliefs.
Lopez: Why can’t you just make floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding? You wouldn’t be performing the ceremony.
Stutzman: Non-florists don’t usually understand what it takes to create floral designs. It’s not as simple as “just making the flowers.” Using my artistic skills to custom-design wedding arrangements would offend God, because it would be celebrating, and even participating in, something that contradicts the sacred covenant of marriage. Marriage is between a man and a woman and is a picture of Christ’s relationship to his church, his bride. I spend hours with my wedding clients so that I can make the wedding as special as it is. The creations should convey what they want to say with flowers and capture their vision for the ceremony. It becomes a work of the heart. The support often includes attending the nuptials, performing touch ups for the flowers at the ceremony and reception, helping the wedding party prepare for the ceremony, and offering encouragement to the wedding couple. There is no question that I would have been participating in celebrating my customer Rob’s marriage in direct contradiction to my religious convictions.
Lopez: Do you worry your position is a bigoted one?
Stutzman: Heavens no! Rob has been my customer and friend for nine years. I knew he was gay, and he knew I was religious. If he walked into the store today, I would hug him and want to know how he is doing. I am not here to tell Rob how to live his life. That is not my position. My decision to refer Rob to another florist was based solely on the event, not his sexual orientation. I still love Rob and want the best for him. I’m sure he is going through rough times, as I am. People can call me all kinds of names, but that doesn’t change the fact that I love Rob and I love the freedom we have in this country.
Lopez: Is it particularly perplexing/disappointing that a regular customer brought a legal case against you?
Stutzman: Yes, it was a surprise as Rob didn’t seem to be greatly disappointed. We talked for a few minutes after I told him my decision. We hugged and he left. He told me he understood my position. I believed we understood each other, and probably would have been fine. It is my understanding that his partner posted the incident on Facebook and then the ACLU reached out to him. That’s what started the whole thing, including the many hateful threats I have received.
Lopez: What is this all teaching you about religious liberty?
Stutzman: That some are trying to take it away. The state attorney general and ACLU are trying to tell me I cannot live my life in accordance with my religious convictions. They demand that I leave my faith inside the church. But that’s like making it illegal for Rob to live his lifestyle outside the walls of his house; once he leaves his home, it has to stop. Our country was founded on religious freedom. Our money says “in God we trust.” The Pledge of Allegiance still calls us “one nation under God.” Yet I am told that I can’t run my business faithfully. I can’t follow God’s word as my way of life, to honor Him. I am told that I can’t have a value system or view of marriage that is different from the government’s. I am learning that if Americans don’t stand up and advocate for our religious and personal freedom, we will have none.
Lopez: What is it teaching you about civility? I understand you’re getting a lot of hate mail.
Stutzman: I am learning that civility isn’t as prevalent as I thought. I’ve learned that it is a waste of time to try to explain your position or what you believe to be true when people are intent on destroying you. They don’t want to listen or try to understand your perspective. Those who have called and cussed us out, said things I cannot repeat, called me names that I had to look up, and threatened me with things that were so evil, we have decided to only say thank you and hung up. We had security come and inform us of what they would do to help. The staff was told never to argue, just be polite and courteous. We will be civil no matter how anyone else decides to act.
Lopez: Whatever the outcome of your case, how can people talk and operate in a spirit of charity while still holding onto the standing for one’s beliefs?
Stutzman: We are taught by Christ, to love one another, to be joyful, to pray for one another, to remember that we all are sinners and saved by God’s grace. I am no better than the next person. I believe that our country was founded to allow different opinions and different religious practices, while respecting those differences. I just want the freedom to live out my life faithfully, believing that marriage is between a man and a woman, just as others have the freedom to live out their lives based on their beliefs about marriage.
Lopez: What is your greatest worry for America given what you’ve been facing?
Stutzman: My greatest worry is that our very basic freedoms are slowly but surely being taken away: the way we choose to raise our children, our religious freedoms, our workplace freedoms, and our freedom of speech. The guaranteed constitutional freedoms that have made this nation great are in jeopardy.
Lopez: What gives you hope-what good have you seen along this journey?
Stutzman: What gives me hope is trust in Jesus Christ. His word. He is in control; I am not. He knows the outcome; I do not. The people — including gay people — who have encouraged us, prayed for us, visited us to express their support for our business, the people who came and stood up for us in court. They give me hope. The cards and letters that come in constantly are such a blessing. We have seen miracle after miracle and blessing after blessing. God is so faithful. He gives me hope.
Lopez: What has this taught you about religious faith?
Stutzman: To trust more and to be obedient to God’s word. It also has shown me how lazy we have been as Christians trying to be politically correct. We cannot straddle the fence, nor should we. The same faith that motivates us to do good works and show compassion requires us to stand firm for God’s principles.