By Sheryl Estrada
Photo by Shutterstock
A Benton County judge ruled Wednesday that a Washington state florist violated anti-discrimination and consumer-protection laws in refusing to sell flower arrangements for a same-gender wedding, which she claims she did for religious reasons.
Baronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in eastern Washington, hadservedRobert Ingersoll at least 20 times beforeand was awarethat he was gay, according to court documents.
Yet when Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed, requested flower arrangements in March 2013 (Washington state legalized same-gender marriage three months prior), Stutzman declined, saying doing so would have constituted a demonstration of approval for the wedding itself. It was “because of my relationship with Jesus Christ,” she said.
Later that year, both state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who claimed she violated Washington’s Consumer Protection Act, and the couple, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit against Stutzman.
Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander C. Ekstrom, in a 60-page opinion, said Stutzman’s actions became illegal the day voters passed a referendum legalizing gay marriage.
“For over 135 years, the Supreme Courthas held that laws may prohibit religiously motivated action, as opposed to belief,” Ekstrom wrote. “The courts have confirmed the power of the Legislative Branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief.”
“You put your home, your family business, and your life savings at risk by daring to defy a government mandate that forces you to promote views you believe are wrong,” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Kristen Waggoner, who is representing Stutzman, said in a statement.
Ekstrom postponed ruling on fines and any economic damages sought by the couple to a later date.
Stutzman’s attorney saidthat she will be appealing the decision.
This is one of several recent incidents involving the rendering of services to the LGBT community. Oregon state officials announced Feb. 2 that Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws in a similar case. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industriesruled they will have to paya lesbian couple up to $150,000, BOLI spokesman Charlie Burr said. A hearing on March 10 will determine the exact amount.
Conversely, Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies has received a civil-rights complaint about Azucar Bakery after owner Marjorie Silva refused to decorate cakes with anti-gay messages. The customer claims he was discriminated against because of his religious beliefs.