For years, a central argument of those in favor of same-sex marriage has been that all Americans should be free to live and love as they choose; however, does that freedom require the government to coerce those who disagree into celebrating same-sex relationships? A growing number of incidents demonstrates that the redefinition of marriage and state policies on sexual orientation have created a climate of intolerance and intimidation for citizens who believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and that sexual relations are properly reserved for marriage.

Now these citizens are facing a new wave of government coercion and discrimination. State laws that create special privileges based on sexual orientation and gender identity are being used to trump fundamental civil liberties such as freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.

Consider the case of Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene Flowers, who is being sued by the state of Washington. In March 2013, she met with long-time customers who asked her to arrange the flowers for their same-sex wedding ceremony. Stutzman felt that she had to decline because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ,” and her belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. While she was happy to sell and arrange flowers for any other occasion (the same-sex couple were happy costumers of hers for nine years), she  didn’t want to use her artistic skills to help celebrate a same-sex wedding ceremony.

As Stutzman explains:

I think most artistic people—especially painters—put their hearts into their arrangements.  It’s part of them, it’s part of who they are. And I think that’s the same thing with a florist.

A month later, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed suit against Stutzman, contending that she had violated the state’s sexual orientation law. The state of Washington is seeking a $2,000 fine and a court order forcing Barronelle to violate her conscience by using her artistic talents to celebrate a same-sex relationship.

>>> Read More “Protecting Religious Liberty in the State Marriage Debate”

Stutzman is not the only small business owner whose religious liberty is at risk. As we note in a new Backgrounder, “Protecting Religious Liberty in the State Marriage Debate,” she is joined by other families across the country who are being hauled into court for their belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

Cake makers, photographers, family bakeries, and adoption agencies, among others, have faced penalties and lawsuits for working in accordance with their faith.

This shouldn’t happen in America. Part of the genius of the American system of government is its commitment to protecting the liberty and First Amendment freedoms of all citizens while respecting their equality before the law. The government protects the freedom of citizens to seek the truth about God, to worship according to their conscience, and to live out their convictions in public life. Likewise, citizens are free to form contracts and other associations according to their own values.

State and federal policy should respect Americans’ ability to live and work in accordance with their beliefs. Even in states where marriage is redefined, government should not coerce individuals and organizations to violate their moral or religious beliefs about marriage. Although Americans are free to live as they choose, no one should demand that government compel others into celebrating their relationship. And Americans should continue to work for laws that reflect the truth about marriage. If marriage is redefined, attempts to marginalize the view of marriage as one man and one woman will only increase.

For citizens like Barronelle Stutzman, the consequences are becoming apparent. Read more about it here.