Why Same-Sex-Marriage Opponents Are Turning to GoFundMe

Supporters of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act are expressing their opinion in a nontraditional way.

(Photo: GoFundMe)

Apr 8, 2015· 3 MIN READ
Jessica Mendoza writes for The Christian Science Monitor, and her work has appeared in GlobalPost, and The Huffington Post.

First pizza, now flowers. A florist from Washington state, fined $1,000 in February for refusing to decorate a gay wedding in 2013 because she said doing so went against her Christian beliefs, has made more than $100,000 through an online crowdfunding site.

The response echoes the more than $840,000 raised for an Indiana pizzeria whose owners said they would not, as a Christian business, provide their services for a same-sex wedding.

Such donations highlight one way that supporters of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act are anonymously expressing their views in a discussion that has been dominated by opponents of the law. The recent passage of the RFRA in Indiana (and Arkansas) has drawn a stark line nationwide between advocates of religious freedom and those of antidiscrimination—leading some critics to say that those whose opinions are based on religious faith are themselves facing intolerance.

About a week ago, Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana, became the first business to publicly stand in support of the RFRA. Less than a day after their interview with WBND-TV aired, co-owners Kevin O’Connor and his daughter Crystal found themselves facing social media outrage, a hacked website, and threats to their family and business.

“I don’t know if we will reopen, or if we can, if it’s safe to reopen,” Crystal O’Connor told Dana Loesch on TheBlaze TV soon after the incident. “We’re in hiding basically, staying in the house.”

In response to the outrage against Memories Pizza, Loesch and TheBlaze contributor Lawrence B. Jones III set up a GoFundMe page for the O’Connors, where they criticized the reaction against the pizzeria owners.

“Rather than allowing this family to simply have their opinion, which they were asked to give, outraged people grabbed the torches and began a campaign to destroy this small business in small town Indiana,” they wrote.

More than $200,000 from more than 7,000 donors poured in within 24 hours of the page going live. Later that week, another GoFundMe page, set up in February for Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman, received a similar show of support, The Seattle Times reported.

The amount that each initiative received reflects a quiet pushback by supporters of the RFRA, some of whom see the issue not as one of discrimination but of freedom of choice or freedom of speech.

“If I say no to [officiating the wedding of] a same-sex couple...some people are going to say that’s discrimination,” Rev. Tim Overton, a Baptist minister from Muncie, Indiana, who testified in hearings in support of the RFRA, told NPR. “But I think most Americans would agree that a pastor like myself should not be compelled by the government to use my speech to support someone else’s perspective.”

He added: “I would hope that society would make allowances for traditional Christian theology and belief and allow us to practice our faiths in the workplace and in public as well as our houses of worship.”

Another reason some supporters have been staying relatively silent about the issue is because they want to avoid “stepping into the harsh spotlight of a contentious public debate,” The Indianapolis Star reported.

“Political activity is not the heart and soul of the faith community," Mike Fichter, president and CEO of Indiana Right to Life, told the Star. “In contrast, progressives thrive on politics.”

At least one liberal media outlet has attacked the credibility of the pizzeria supporters’ campaign, calling it a conservative media publicity stunt “about as genuine as a three dollar bill,” wrote Manny Schewitz on forwardprogressives.com.

The piece continued: “Conservatives who support the religious freedom laws that have become popular in red states across the country ahead of the Supreme Court’s expected ruling have poured their money into this campaign, but the sad fact is that they’ve wasted their funds once again on another publicity stunt designed to gin up the conservative base.… This isn’t an organic campaign to help out a business that decided to become a political martyr; it’s a publicity stunt by The Blaze and a financial windfall for the owners of Memories Pizza.”

The issue, however, is nuanced, and as polarizing as the RFRA debate has become, there’s plenty of gray area in between. To some critics, the problem is in the language and not the spirit of certain RFRA bills, as Garrett Epps, a constitutional law professor at the University of Baltimore, argued in The Atlantic.

“Of course it’s not a ‘license to discriminate’—that’s not what a RFRA is,” Epps wrote, quoting a phrase Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has used repeatedly to defend the bill in his state.

“[But] the Indiana law as enacted and signed is broader than the federal RFRA or most other state laws,” he added. “It provides religious protection to more businesses than the federal statute does…. Beyond that, it allows businesses or individuals to challenge legal actions even before they happen—if they are ‘likely’ to happen.”

This story was produced by The Christian Science Monitor.