07 May

No wedding cake, but a large slice of crowdfunding

It’s hard to know just which numbers to use.

In March, Arlene’s Flowers, in Richland, Wash., was convicted by a state judge of violating the Washington anti-discrimination statute for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. Baronelle Stutzman, owner of the company, was fined $1,000 plus $1 in court costs.

By early April, according to the Associated Press, Arlene’s Flowers had gathered more than $85,000 in crowdfunding pledges over the Internet, a fragrant floral funding.

After Crystal O’Connor, owner of Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Ind., told a local TV affiliate that she supported Indiana’s religious freedom act and would refuse to supply pizzas for a same-sex wedding – not that anyone had asked her to – she said she received a wave of abuse and threats that caused her to close the restaurant. It reopened a few days later.

In two days, a crowdfunding effort led by conservative media brought in $842,357, from 29,000 contributors.

In Oregon’s own famous case, Sweet Cakes by Melissa’s Aaron and Melissa Klein, who refused to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage, were last week ordered by a state administrative law judge to pay $135,000 in damages to the same-sex couple. The decision now works its way to state labor commissioner Brad Avakian and then, no doubt, to the courts for an appeals process.

A crowdfunding effort on GoFundMe almost immediately brought in more than $100,000 for the Kleins. GoFundMe then closed down the effort on the grounds that the Kleins – unlike the Indiana pizza maker – had been found to violate a law. Immediately, Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, said his national organization, Samaritan’s Purse, would take over fund-raising for the Kleins.

Graham’s group has not yet released any current crowdfunding totals, but it does seem – based on trends and the other widely reported cases – that refusing to provide services to a same-sex wedding can be considerably more lucrative than actually providing them.

Especially if you’re an Indiana pizza place, although maybe that depends on the pizza topping.

So in talking about economic impact, it’s hard to know just which numbers to use.

Which is less of a problem than you might think, since – with 37 states now allowing same-sex marriage, and not enough refusal-of-service cases to fill even a small rehearsal dinner – the issue really isn’t about economic impact.
“The law is clear: If you choose to provide a service to couples of the opposite sex, you must provide the same service to same-sex couples,” explained Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson about the Richland flowers case. Selling flowers or a cake or a pizza to anybody doesn’t provide authority over how the purchase is to be used.

If it did, your average wedding would have a lot more guests, or at least a lot more signatures on the marriage certificate.

Last week, the same week that the Oregon administrative judge ruled in the Sweet Cakes case, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a long-awaited case on same-sex marriage. Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered the swing and decisive vote on the issue, expressed the case for full recognition in a question to opposing counsel: “Same-sex couples say, of course, ‘We understand the nobility and the sacredness of marriage. We know we can’t procreate but we want the other attributes of it in order to show that we, too, have a dignity that can be fulfilled.’”

As Avakian’s spokesman Charlie Burr points out, the Oregon decision was based on a violation of law – specifically, a violation of ORS 659A.493 – but unlike the Washington case, the amount was not a fine but a judgment of damages. The $135,000 finding was based on the administrative judge’s assessment of the pain and suffering felt by the wedding couple, including their claim that Aaron Klein called them an “abomination.”

The vital part of that decision, as with the Washington decision, was establishing the right of same-sex couples to equal treatment in public accommodation. When Avakian reviews the judgment, he might consider how the $135,000 judgment, even if more than covered by online contributions, creates a sense of marriage martyrdom that undercuts the ruling’s impact.

In the Internet age, economic impact – like pain and suffering –is a difficult thing to measure, and it’s hard to know which numbers to use. What we can hold to is the principle that two consenting adults of either gender are legally entitled to be treated alike. That means, in Justice Kennedy’s favorite word, with dignity.

In 2015, we’re setting the position that in more than one arrangement, two’s company.

Three’s a crowdfunding.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Oregonian, 5/6/15.