Washington Christian Florist Refusing Service To Same-Sex Wedding Ruled Against by Court

( [email protected] ) Feb 16, 2017 04:48 PM EST
A Richland, Wash., florist who, due to her religious beliefs, refused to provide services for a same-sex wedding was found to have broken the state's antidiscrimination law.
A Christian florist from Washington state vowed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after that state's top court unanimously ruled on Thursday that she discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to sell them flowers for their wedding. WNG

A Richland, Wash., florist who, due to her religious beliefs, refused to provide services for a same-sex wedding was found to have broken the state's antidiscrimination law.

Washington Supreme Court nine justices ruled unanimously Thursday against Barronelle Stutzman, the florist who by a lower court was fined $1,000,  plus $1 for court costs and fees, for denying service to a gay couple in 2013, reports Fox News. Stutzman's lawyers immediately said they would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

Arlene's Flowers and Gifts' owner Barronelle Stutzman was given 60 days during March 2015 to pay Washington state for discriminating against Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, who officially tied the knot in 2013, the Associated Press reported. Calling the award a government threat to Christians, she told Christian Post in a statement the ruling provided a very specific message: "Surrender your religious liberty and free speech rights, or face personal and professional ruin."

Stutzman recently argued that she was exercising her First Amendment rights. But the court held that her floral arrangements do not constitute protected free speech, and that providing flowers to a same-sex wedding would not serve as an endorsement of same-sex marriage.

"As Stutzman acknowledged at a deposition, providing flowers for a wedding between Muslims would not necessarily constitute an endorsement of Islam, nor would providing flowers for an atheist couple endorse atheism," the opinion said.

"It's wrong for the state to force any citizen to support a particular view about marriage or anything else against their will," Stutzman's attorney, Kristen Waggoner, wrote in a statement issued after the ruling. "Freedom of speech and religion aren't subject to the whim of a majority; they are constitutional guarantees."

Gov. Jay Inslee said the new ruling on this case was "in favor of equality for all Washingtonians."

"By ruling that intolerance based on sexual orientation is unlawful, the Court affirmed that Washington state will remain a place where no one can be discriminated against because of who they love," Inslee said in a written statement.

Stutzman said she previously sold flowers to Ingersoll and Freed and knew they were gay, but told them she couldn't provide flowers for their wedding because same-sex marriage was incompatible with her Christian beliefs.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the couple sued the florist, saying she broke state anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws, and the lower court agreed. The state's nine high court justices upheld that verdict.

The court rejected several arguments put forth by Stutzman, including the assertion that since other florists were willing to serve the couple, no harm occurred.

"As every other court to address the question has concluded, public accommodations laws do not simply guarantee access to goods or services. Instead, they serve a broader societal purpose:  eradicating barriers to the equal treatment of all citizens in the commercial marketplace," the court wrote. "Were we to carve out a patchwork of exceptions for ostensibly justified discrimination, that purpose would be fatally undermined."

Stutzman got into the florist business 30 years ago, when her mother bought a flower shop.

An online donation fund campaign was established on Continue to Give to help raise funds for legal costs of this case. At the time this article was published, the campaign had raised $5,116.

Stutzman, a member of the Southern Baptist denomination, said she believes marriage should be exclusively between a man and a woman. "When you think that the government is coming in telling you what to think or what to do or what to create, we should all be very scared," she said in a call with reporters.



Tags : illegal discrimination, Same-Sex Marriage, gay rights, civil rights, LGBTQ, Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts, Barronelle Stutzman, freedom of speech, religious liberty, Religious Freedom, conservative news, constitutional rights, refusing services, equality, Washington news, Christian beliefs, consumer protection laws, Washington LGBT court, free speech