A Washington Christian florist is being sued by the Washington State and the American Civil Liberties Union for refusing to service a same-sex couple for their marriage because of her faith in Jesus Christ.
Along with attorneys’ fees and costs, the lawsuit seeks $2,000 in fines for each violation and an injunction requires Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, to comply with the state’s consumer protection laws, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. A court date has not yet been set.
While Washington has legalized same-sex marriage in November, the people remains divided over the issue between the liberals and the more conservative communities. According to Los Angeles Times, Arlene’s Flowers does business in Benton County, where 63% opposed the bill.
Barronelle Stutzman explained the reason on Facebook page why she refused service Robert Ingersoll and his partner Curt Freed, who had been her customer for nearly a decade, during the March 1 incident.
“When it came to doing his wedding, I said, ‘I could not do it because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.’ He thanked me and said, ‘He respected my opinion.’ We talked and gave each other a hug and he left,” said Stutzman. “I believe, biblically, that marriage is between a man and a woman. That is my conviction, yours may be different.”
Addressing some comments calling her as bigots, Stutzman said, “I have hired all walks of people in different circumstances, and had the privilege of working with some very talented people that happen to be gay.”
While Stutzman thought that nothing would come of it, her decline to service was picked up by Huffington Post, which gave rise to Facebook pages that called for boycotts to her flower shop. Meanwhile, supporters asked how they would be able to contribute financially to support her causes and her legal fees.
“Stand firm in the faith! The Lord will provide for you. Thank you for standing up for what you believe in,” wrote a fan. Another wrote, “Interesting how same-sex marriage supporters scream for rights, but then want to deny this woman her rights … the only rights that matter is same-sex marriage and trying to force others to accept it.”
Attorney General Bob Ferguson has sent a letter to Stutzman to sign an Assurance of Discontinuance (AOD), where she would “agree not to discriminate against consumers based on their sexual orientation in the future.” However, she stood by her original decision and responded through her attorney.
“As Attorney General, it is my job to enforce the laws of the state of Washington,” Ferguson announced Tuesday of the lawsuit. “If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their wedding, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service.”
According to Los Angeles Times, American Civil Liberties Union would file a separate civil suit for damages on behalf of Ingersoll and his partner unless Stutzman agrees to provide flowers without discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, publish a letter of apology in the newspaper and donate $5,000 to a local youth center, in lieu of attorney’s fees.
“It is a disturbing reminder of the history of discrimination and disparate treatment that they and other gay men and women have experienced over the years,” the ACLU letter said.
JD Bristol, Stutzman’s Snohomish-based attorney, told Tri-City Herald that he and his client agree businesses are prohibited from discriminating against people because of their faith, ethnicity and sexual orientation. However, this isn’t the issue here, he argued.
Bristol said Arlene’s Flowers doesn’t discriminate against homosexuals, having served them as customers and employed them.
“The objection isn’t because the client is gay, it’s because of the event,” he said, according to the Herald. “That’s based on religious sentiment.”
Family Policy Institute of Washington, a conservative family values organization, has jumped in on this issue and is asking people if they are interested in supporting the challenge by Stutzman to the consumer protection lawsuit filed by the attorney general.
“We will be helping to assemble Washington citizens to support this small business and communicate to our elected officials that this harassment is not being done with the consent of the governed,” said executive director Joseph Blackholm in a release.
As requested by supporters, Stutzman has opened a bank account to accept financial support for her defense fund. Yet, those who opposes Stutzman doubt if she would be able to get the financial backing to win the case as there are only around 1,300 Facebook fans.
Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a bakery located in downtown Gresham, Oregon, is also under fire for similar reasons, and it has connected with Arlene’s Florist in their mutual fight in standing up for their rights to choose who to service.