Same-sex marriage and a conscience clash, via CNN

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage, CNN's "Belief Blog" features an excellent story by Godbeat pro Daniel Burke exploring the issue from the perspective of conservative Christians. The headline:

Conservatives brace for 'marriage revolution'

The story grabs readers' attention by focusing on a civil rights vs. conscience clash in Washington state:

With its ivy-covered entrance and Teddy Bear bouquets, Arlene’s Flowers seems an unlikely spot to trigger a culture-war skirmish.

Until recently, the Richland, Washington, shop was better known for its artistic arrangements than its stance on same-sex marriage.

But in March, Barronelle Stutzman, the shop’s 68-year-old proprietress, refused to provide wedding flowers for a longtime customer who was marrying his partner. Washington state legalized same-sex marriage in December.

An ardent evangelical, Stutzman said she agonized over the decision but couldn’t support a wedding that her faith forbids.

“I was not discriminating at all,” she said. “I never told him he couldn’t get married. I gave him recommendations for other flower shops.”

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson disagreed, and filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers. The ACLU also sued on behalf of the customer, Robert Ingersoll, who has said Stutzman’s refusal “really hurt, because it was someone I knew.”

After providing a closeup view of that single skirmish, the reporter backs up and paints a wide-angle portrait of the changing times and attitudes confronting social conservatives — from within and outside their own ranks. It's all extremely interesting with credible (albeit fairly predictable) evangelical sources such as Albert Mohler, Russell Moore and Jonathan Merritt.

At the end, the story closes with the florist featured up top:

Online, Stutzman has been called a bigot, and worse.

She said she’s lost at least two weddings because of her refusal to provide services for the same-sex marriage.

Conservative activists say her case is the first of what will surely be many more, as gay marriage spreads across the country.

As she gets ready to face a judge, the silver-haired florist offered some advice for fellow evangelicals.

“Don’t give in. If you have to go down for Christ, what better person to go down for?”

As an evenhanded account of conservative Christian attitudes, the CNN story turns out fine. But here's where it falls short: in providing any actual insight into the legal issues involved in the Washington state case.

In a separate story, The Associated Press reported:

The Washington state attorney general's office sued the shop owner, Baronelle Stutzman, saying she violated consumer protection law by refusing service in March to longtime customers Freed and Robert Ingersoll.

Under state law, it's illegal for businesses to refuse to sell goods, merchandise and services to any person because of their sexual orientation.

Stutzman says she has no problem with homosexual customers but won't support gay weddings because of her religious beliefs.

In addition to the state, the ACLU sued Stutzman on behalf of the Kennewick, Wash., couple.

I wish CNN had delved a little deeper into the "freedom of conscience" issue. I'm no expert on the subject but wrote a 2011 Christianity Today story that listed a few examples of conscience questions:

Should a pharmacist be required to dispense the morning-after pill?

Should a cab driver be forced to transport passengers drinking alcohol?

Should an attorney be prohibited from rejecting a client whose beliefs conflict with her own?

That same story noted:

In a recent Heritage report titled "From Culture Wars to Conscience Wars," (Thomas M.) Messner wrote: "Today, religious liberty and rights of conscience issues are more complicated than simply freedom from government interference in religious worship or teaching."

In general, Messner said, "Increases in the level of government intrusion in the activities of private individuals and private entities carries with it … the potential to increase the number of conflicts between state-imposed duties … and religious liberty and right of conscience."

More insight into the civil rights vs. conscience debate would have helped make an already good CNN story even better.

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