A Washington (state) florist who refused to provide flowers to a gay wedding violated state consumer protection and anti-discrimination laws, a Washington judge ruled Wednesday.
Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, had sold flowers for years to a gay customer named Robert Ingersoll, according to Yahoo News. The florist knew her customer was gay and knew that he would be giving the flowers to his partner, Curt Freed. In that context, Ms. Stutzman didn’t have a problem selling flowers to a gay customer.
But once gay marriage became legal in Washington, Ingersoll approached Arlene’s flowers about providing the floral arrangements at his and Freed’s wedding. Ms. Stutzman declined, saying that she couldn’t do so “because of [her] relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Ingersoll and Freed sued, arguing that the florist’s actions violated Washington’s Law Against Discrimination and Consumer Protection Act.
Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander C. Ekstrom ruled Wednesday that the florist was, indeed, in violation of the law. He further ruled that her claim of protection under the First Amendment was invalid, according to The L.A. Times.
“For over 135 years, the Supreme Court has held that laws may prohibit religiously motivated action, as opposed to belief. The Courts have confirmed the power of the Legislative Branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief. Stutzman is not a minister, nor is Arlene’s Flowers a religious organization when they sell flowers to the general public. Stutzman cannot comply with both the law and her faith if she continues to provide flowers for weddings as part of her duly licensed business.”
Both Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington praised the judge’s ruling.
“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.”
However, Stutzman’s attorney, Kristen Waggoner from Alliance Defending Freedom, claimed that the ruling is an unnecessary intrusion of the government into a business owner’s religious beliefs.
“The ruling basically said that if you dare to not celebrate same-sex marriage because it violates your religious convictions, that the government has a right to bring about your personal and professional ruin. Her home, her business… her life savings and retirement, these are all in jeopardy… all because of her deeply held religious views.”
Stutzman’s attorney says she plans to appeal the ruling. In the meantime, the Washington florist has stopped providing flowers to weddings completely in order to avoid having to provide flowers for gay weddings.
[Image courtesy of: Getty Images/Kevork Djansezian]