The stakes just got much higher for those refusing to cater to homosexual demands as a judge in Washington state just ruled that a florist who turned down a gay couple for their wedding flowers can be personally sued and held liable for her actions.
Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers and Gifts in Richland, was first sued in 2013 by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson for refusing to provide floral service to a same-sex wedding, citing that the move would go against her Christian faith.
"I just took his hands and said, 'I'm sorry. I cannot do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ," Stutzman said in an earlier interview explaining her case. "We hugged each other and he left, and I assumed it was the end of the story."
But it wasn't the end of the story as decade-long client Robert Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed, took the story online where it went viral. Stutzman reports that she began receiving threatening letters, emails, and phone calls from LGBT supporters, including threats from people saying they would burn down her building. At first, Ingersoll's attorneys asked Stutzman to reconsider her refusal, but when she stuck to her guns, the legal proceedings began.
"It's a personal conviction. It's not a matter of being right or wrong. It's my belief," Stutzman said in a 2013 interview with SeattlePI.com.
"As attorney general, it is my job to enforce the laws of the state of Washington," the Attorney General said in a statement issued during the legal ordeal. "Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation."
The case has been ongoing since that time, but the latest development has Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom ruling that the Consumer Protection Act supports "both individual and corporate liability," meaning she can not only be sued as a business, but also as a private citizen who violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination.
As defined by the Family Policy Network of Washington, the judge's decision means that the state can legally pursue court costs and attorney fees from both the business and Stutzman's own personal assets.
But Stutzman's attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom are fighting back, arguing that the business owner didn't discriminate against the gay couple personally, as she had served them for several years, but it was the issue of same-sex marriage that she refused to support, which should be her constitutional right.
"Barronelle and numerous others like her around the country have been more than willing to serve any and all customers, but they are not willing to promote any and all messages," Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Kristen Waggoner said in a statement. The group contends that Stutzman cannot be sued personally for actions taken under business capacity.
"A government that forces any American to create a message contrary to her own convictions and surrender her livelihood is a government every American should fear," she added.
Stutzman's trial is scheduled for March 23, and we will keep you updated on any new developments in the case.