Washington High Court: Christian Florist Must Do Gay Weddings

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by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  February 16, 2017   

Florist: "I couldn't deny my faith"

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RICHLAND, Wash. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Washington State Supreme Court ruled that a florist discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to provide flowers for their same-sex wedding.

The state's high court ruled Thursday, February 16 that Barronelle Stutzman — owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richmond, Washington — broke the state's anti-discrimination laws when she refused to make floral arrangements for the wedding of a same-sex couple back in 2013.

Stutzman remarked that the ruling was "terrifying when you think the government is coming in and telling you what to think and what to do." When she chose to appeal, two lower court rulings to the state's Supreme Court last November, she said of Rob Ingersoll — the gay man who sued her, "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."


Last November Stutzman spoke well of her longtime customer and gay friend, Rob Ingersoll. "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."

In 2013, Ingersoll and his same-sex partner asked Stutzman to provide flowers for their wedding. She politely refused and suggested several other local florists who would be happy to help them. Two years later, Rob Ingersoll and his gay partner, aided by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), sued Stutzman in a civil suit alleging she unjustly discriminated against them because they were gay.

Washington's state attorney general also sued Stutzman, alleging she violated the Consumer Protection Act by discriminating against a customer because he was homosexual. It was the loss of these two lower court rulings last November that landed Stutzman's case on appeal before the state's high court.

Stutzman held that because other local florists were willing to serve the gay couple that no harm was done. In a unanimous decision, the state's supreme rejected her claim. "[P]ublic 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 also knocked down Stutzman's defense that her floral arrangements were a form of artistic expression and thus protected by the First Amendment. The court decreed, "The First Amendment's plain terms protect 'speech,' not conduct."

Last February, a Benton County Superior Court judge ruled that Stutzman couldn't object to providing flowers for same-sex weddings on account of her religious beliefs. The court said she must either provide flowers for such weddings or quit the business altogether. The supreme court ruling upheld this decision by the lower court.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the conservative legal organization representing Stutzman, said they'll appeal the case to the the U.S. Supreme Court. Following the high court's ruling against Stutzman ADF remarked, "It's wrong for the state to force any citizen to support a particular view about marriage or anything else against their will. Freedom of speech and religion aren't subject to the whim of a majority; they are constitutional guarantees."
 

 

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Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.

Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th. is a staff writer for ChurchMilitant.com.

Follow Bradley on Twitter: @BradleyLEli