BELLEVUE, Wash. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A florist in Washington State is appealing two court rulings forcing her to comply with so-called same-sex marriage, against her beliefs.
Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richmond, Washington, was sued twice in 2015, first in a civil lawsuit by Rob Ingersoll and his gay partner — represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — because she refused to make flower arrangements for their wedding.
Stutzman referred Ingersoll to other florists who would make the arrangements for him, and he at first appeared to leave satisfied. She commented, "This wasn't about selling him flowers. … Art, like faith, comes from the heart, from who I am. I couldn't deny my faith — even for so dear a friend — without damaging the very creativity he was asking for."
Stutzman continued, "Rob Ingersoll and I have been friends since very nearly the first time he walked into my shop. … All those years, he always asked for me, when he could easily have gone somewhere else for his arrangements."
She added, "There was never an issue with his being gay (nor has there been with any of my other customers or employees). He just enjoyed my arrangements, and I loved creating them for him."
After the state attorney general (AG) heard about the first case on the news, he charged Stutzman with violating the Consumer Protection Act by discriminating against a homosexual customer.
The ACLU offered to drop the case if she donated $5,000 to a LGBT activist group, publicly apologized and promised to stop refusing customers. The AG offered to settle the second case for a $2,000 penalty, a $1 fine and, again, a promise to stop refusing customers. Stutzman refused the deal and the court ruled against her in both cases, imposing fines and attorneys' fees.
Using the online fundraiser GoFundMe, supporters donated $174,000 to help Stutzman with legal costs, but after LGBT activists complained to the company, GoFundMe canceled the donations, claiming that her efforts violated a newly enacted ban on campaigns that defend against "claims of discriminatory acts."
"This case is about the government forcing her to participate in an event and promote ideas against her will under the threat of punishment," Waggoner argued. "She stands to lose everything simply for declining to promote the state-approved meaning of marriage."
If you're not a person of faith, that may sound odd. But Rob [Ingersoll] said he understood, and I took him at his word. He may not have shared my beliefs, but he knew I genuinely cared about him. I still do, and I miss him coming into the shop. But the state is trying to use his case to force me to create artistic expressions that violate my deepest beliefs. It's moving to dissolve my most precious freedom, erode my life's work and savings and take away the financial security of those who work with me.
She offered a warning to others. "Does anyone really believe that a government that gives itself the power to force people to believe (and not believe) things and can order artists to create state-sanctioned messages will only use that power to bend one small-town florist to its will — and then leave everyone else alone?"