Jonathan G. Lange

Jonathan G. Lange is a pastor in Evanston, Wyoming. Lange has some interesting ideas about what loving other people means. In a lengthy polemic at The Federalist, Lange writes: “Why Refusing To Design Gay Wedding Flowers Was Barronelle Stutzman’s Act Of Love.” The subtitle of Lange’s magnum opus reads: “Their mutual love of flowers brought them together, but Baronnelle Stutzman and Robert Ingersoll’s love for each other grew out of their love of growing things.”

This piece is larded to the hilt. I’ll try to cut to the chase:

In the friendship of Barronelle and Rob, it was about a wedding. She
learned ahead of time that he was going to ask her, and she agonized
about it as any friend naturally would. As a business owner, another
account was a no-brainer. As a friend, she was loathe to deny a
heartfelt wish. As a Christian she sincerely believed that endorsing his
same-sex marriage would actually hurt her friend.

It is this sense of self-importance that does these folks in. No one asked Stutzman to “endorse” any of the marriages that she has ever sold flowers for. No doubt those have included folks on second or third divorces and brides who are pregnant. Atheists too. Lange seems to think that we seek or require his approval or Stutzman’s. We don’t and approval is what this is all about. Stutzman wanted to demonstrate her disapproval by declining service. She doesn’t get to do that. Not as a matter of living in a civil society and not according to Washington law.

As for knowing in advance I have read a fair amount of of the briefs in this case and I cannot recall ever coming across that. Stutzman was prepared — anxious to display her bigotry. I have guessed that ADF and some pastors trolled for wedding vendors when Washington became a marriage equality state in December, 2012. After all, what do conservative Christians love more than to be victimized?

Through tears and hand-holding, gentle words and sorrowful regrets, she explained that she could not grant this request. “Could not” is the language of a heart captive to something higher than yourself. It is the farthest thing from “will not.” Their conversation ended with a hug and hope. Tests of friendship can either end them or lift them to a higher level. Time would tell.

Oh, bullshit. According to the testimony she was curt and did not allow Ingersoll to complete his sentence. There was no polite conversation. Indeed there wasn’t a conversation at all. The tears, hand-holding, hugs and hope are of Lange’s dishonest manufacture.

Unlike other challenges to friendship, however, the power of government intruded into this one. You can’t be hauled to court for declining to condone an affair. But you can for this. Washington enacted a Law Against Discrimination (WLAD). Barronelle was told that she had violated it.

Whether she has or hasn’t the Washington State Supreme Court will decide. And whether the Washington law passes constitutional muster, the U.S. Supreme Court could decide. But I am interested in their friendship.

Courts are only required to enforce the laws that people disobey. There is nothing ambiguous about Washington’s law and Stutzman’s lawyers at ADF already know that this is a lost cause. There is ample precedent that there are no religious exemptions to otherwise valid laws (Employment Division v. Smith) and ADF (Stutzman’s free lawyers) petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States in a similar case (Elane Photography v. Willock). The Court declined to hear the matter. Whether Lange is ignorant or dishonest is a tossup. He could be both. And, yes, disapproval is not actionable — just as Lange states. However the denial of service is a violation of law, one that Stutzman has an obligation to know and obey.

The whole point of law is to help people live in harmony, not monotone. The whole point of discimination law is to ensure all people are treated with dignity. What about Rob and Barronelle? Has WLAD helped them? Is Rob being treated with more dignity as a result of it? Is Barronelle? The answers to these questions are obvious. Rob has not entered her shop since that day. The harmony is gone. Has his dignity been increased? Barronelle not only lost a friend, but finds her dignity and livelihood attacked in open court.

Oh, so the florist is a victim. The only victim here is the person who was denied service. We do not call people who are punished for their misdeeds “victims.” It is clear from the record that Stutzman wanted to turn someone away to demonstrate her power of disapproval. She did and now must face the consequences of an unlawful act. Too bad!

What saddens me the most is that their friendship is broken. It would be sad enough if Rob took such great offense to her words that he broke off the friendship without trying to talk it through. Heaven knows that happens all too often with each of us. But what saddens me even more is the thought that he was encouraged to break off the friendship by WLAD itself

The flies are gathering on this mound of manure. The law did not break a friendship (if that is what it was). The florist told her customer that he was not eligible for service. Stutzman would be willing to serve a child molester as long as his wedding was to the opposite sex. That dynamic does tend to break any ties that they might have had.

Did the ACLU convince him that it was worth losing a friend in order to help others? Did the attorney general convince him that he needed to sue Barronelle to advance the dignity of others? Who knows. Whatever went on behind the scenes, Rob no longer talks to Barronelle, and the only thing that changed was applying WLAD.

That is the sophomoric rhetorical means of blaming the ACLU and AG Ferguson. Just how stupid does Lange think we all are? And what changed wasn’t the application of the law. That is after the fact. What changed is that Stutzman displayed her bigotry. Personally, I would have caused a disruption that would have probably ended with the cops coming to the scene. No one gets away with that with me. Two words would have changed the outcome: “I’m sorry.” When it comes to blaming lawyers, it is Alliance Defending Freedom that probably created this matter and they insist on pursuing it regardless of the case law.

When the law was debated and passed, the state of Washington didn’t even contemplate that a denial of same-sex marriage would violate WLAD. After all, same sex-marriage remained illegal in Washington for three years after WLAD was on the books. Nor was it that Ingersoll finally learned the truth about his florist’s beliefs, or that Barronelle suddenly became a bigot after ten years of friendship.

Stutzman always was a bigot. She just got the chance to demonstrate her personality flaws. Marriage is irrelevant. Again, there is an enormous body of case law. When a Christian refuses service to a Jewish-Christian wedding it is anti-Semitism per se. When a florist refuses service to a same-sex wedding that amounts to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It is an unambiguous fact certain.

Consider also the millions of Americans watching this case unfold. Had Barronelle not treated her customer with care and love in the first place, he would never have asked her for this gift, and she would be off the hook. What do we expect other shop-owners and artists to learn from this?

Gift? Is Lange really that obtuse? Idiotic? Oblivious? There are no extra points for treating customers well. That is the expectation. What I expect others to learn is to obey the law and that there are no religious exemptions to law.

It gets worse by the paragraph:

Hide your affection. Treat everyone the same. Leave your personal expression at home. Sell your goods without thought for your customers. Above all, hide your religion. This is not a recipe for love, dignity and unity. It is a recipe for impersonal relationships, distrust, and loneliness. Not only has Washington’s Law Against Discrimination been at the center of destroying one friendship, it will also make friendships and love more difficult across the board.

Oh poor Barronelle! Of course none of that is necessary to obey the simple law. Customers do not need Stutzman’s love. They require that she provide goods and services to the best of her ability. Anything less than that is bad business. I am sure there are other florists in the area and Stutzman is required to be competitive. I have no idea what Lange’s bio looks like but I am guessing that it is short on some business experience.

Unless the Washington Supreme Court overturns the lower court, a 72-year-old woman will not only lose her business of nearly 40 years, she will also lose her house and retirement savings. That’s because, in an unprecedented move, the ACLU and state attorney general have sued not only her business, but her person for attorney fees estimated at more than a million dollars.

Stutzman’s age is irrelevant. She had the opportunity to walk away from this without a dime expended. Moreover, the ACLU is not suing Stutzman and the existing judgment being appealed by Stutzman is for $1,001. The dollar is for attorney’s fees. I suppose that the state could sue for legal fees after the fact but nowhere has that been a stated intention. Lange apparently has the intellectual curiosity of a miniature poodle — possibly less.

The love story continues, no thanks to WLAD. The love continues because one person guided by her worldview refuses to hate. More than that, she refuses to retreat into an impersonal and uncaring tolerance. Some label this as hate and bigotry. I appreciate it as the art of love.

No, you didn’t miss anything. The promised act of love isn’t there. What I see is an act of hate and willful intent to disobey a valid law. Stutzman and Lange can both go to hell. I suppose that Lange’s intellectual mediocrity is almost as infuriating as the homophobia.

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By David Cary Hart

Retired CEO. Formerly a W.E. Deming-trained quality-management consultant. Now just a cranky Jewish queer. Gay cis. He/Him/His.