A woman walks into a flower shop and says she’s getting married. Sounds like the beginning to a bad joke, but in reality this was the beginning to a bad experience … for the flower shop owner.
In fact, the events actually unfolded via email when the bride-to-be contacted the home based florist, who orders in flowers only after a sale is confirmed, through an ad on Kijiji.
In the process of getting a quote from the owner of Petals and Promises via email, the bride asked for a revision to reflect two bridal bouquets. A reply email to clarify the request before the flowers were special ordered into the shop resulted in an email explaining that two bouquets were required because the wedding featured two brides, no groom.
Before considering the florist’s response, let’s back up a few steps to establish a little more context. The brides were working with a wedding planner. The wedding planner recommended a florist. The brides decided they would find their own.
Then came the email from the owner of Petals and Promises that has been provided by someone to the media ; or, at least the first of the two paragraphs in the email was provided because the media has not published the second paragraph. Below are both paragraphs:
When I first received your e-mail regarding your wedding, I was assuming it was a heterosexual marriage, as there was nothing in your e-mail to indicate otherwise. On that basis, I agreed to undertake your order. Now that you have brought to my attention that that is not the case, I am choosing to decline your business. As a born again Christian, I must respect my conscience before God, and have no part in this matter.
I know for certain that Maggie's Flowers in Riverview does gay weddings. She gets her flowers from the same supplier that I would be getting them from. I don't expect she would be too busy this time of year with Valentine's Day well over with. I believe that Maggie's will do a good job for you and her prices are reasonable.
I don’t know about you, but I found this to be a very respectful email that accommodated the brides’ request without inconvenience.
The bride replied a few hours later:
That is fine, I'm a Christian as well and although I believe we all have the same God, you have your own beliefs. I've found another florist and will share your position with those that I know so that you will not be bothered with any future business.
And that seemed the end of the matter. The wedding went off without any problems, according to media reports.
But the wedding planner was distressed by the experience and felt the need, several weeks later, to inform the media.
The emails suggest these two women had a theological disagreement that resulted in a peaceful resolution. But the third party wedding planner was not content with the outcome. He tweeted his displeasure, contacted the media and sparked a protest in front of the florist’s home.
About 90 people gathered in front of the florist’s home for a “peaceful protest,” not intended to intimidate. Several police cruisers were also present.
The Town of Riverview does not have many by-laws, but it has one that requires a permit to assemble on a public street. Heck, the by-law even prohibits getting together for a game of ball hockey on a public street.
I wonder if the folk who visited the florist’s quiet residential street had a permit? I wonder if the police asked to see the crowd’s permit? I wonder how intimidating it would be to have 90 people gather on the street in front of my house? I wonder how my neighbour’s would have reacted or how they would treat me the next day? Seems intimidating to me.
I wonder what would have happened if 90 people from a local church had gathered in front of someone’s house for a “peaceful prayer meeting” to try to get that person to change their mind about a point of theological disagreement?
I have communicated with the florist and can report that the “non-intimidation” campaign continues through the mail and with messages that a human rights complaint is coming. There’s little more intimidating in today’s Canada than being threatened with – sorry, advised about – a complaint to a human rights commission.
To summarize, the brides’ names have been kept out of the media while the florist’s has been publicized by the CBC, Sun Media, New Brunswick’s Times and Transcript and a fair number of blogs and publications in the gay community. A peaceful, but illegal and intimidating, gathering was permitted to take place on a residential street in Riverview and further “non-intimidating” action is coming through the mail.
The florist is being painted a villain, when she has simply respectfully acted in a non-injurious way in accordance with her religious beliefs.
The Supreme Court of Canada has been loath to interfere where a difference of opinion has been expressed as being a difference of religious belief (as the bride has expressed here). The Court has endorsed the fundamental freedom of Canadians to engage in non-injurious actions that are directly related to their religious beliefs (as the florist did here). And they have been pretty clear about the illegality of threats and intimidation – no matter how peacefully made – and, by the way, it is illegal to do so through the mail (although apparently not through the media). The Court has also spoken out against forcing people to participate in endorsing a same-sex marriage when it is contrary to their religious beliefs (Reference Re Same-Sex Marriage).
There was a time when neighbours respected one another’s position on issues of differing opinion. Canadians tended to think of it as “democracy.” It seems to me that that time of mutual respect should not be regarded as being only a part of Riverview’s past. It is part of the present and, in terms of time, it’s time to move on.