By BTL Staff
OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Washington Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously ruled that a florist in Richland violated the state’s anti-discrimination law when she denied service to a same-sex couple for their wedding.
Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll were refused service by Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland because they are gay. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Washington are representing Freed and Ingersoll in their lawsuit against the florist for violating their rights. The suit, Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers, was heard jointly with the consumer protection lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers brought by the state of Washington.
“We’re thrilled that the Washington Supreme Court has ruled in our favor. The court affirmed that we are on the right side of law and the right side of history,” said Freed and Ingersoll. “We felt it was so important that we stand up against discrimination because we don’t want what happened to us to happen to anyone else. We are so glad that we stood up for our rights.”
The decision by the Washington state Supreme Court affirms a Benton County judge’s ruling in the 2013 case. Stutzman said she was exercising her First Amendment rights, and her lawyers immediately said they would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Thursday’s decision.
Freed and Ingersoll have been a couple since 2004. In December 2012, soon after the state of Washington began recognizing the freedom to marry for gay couples, Freed proposed marriage to Ingersoll, and the two became engaged. They were planning for a wedding to be held on their anniversary in September 2013. Having purchased goods from Arlene’s Flowers on many occasions – Stutzman knew they were gay – Ingersoll on behalf of the couple, approached the florist to arrange for flowers for the event. However, he was told that the business would not sell the couple flowers because of the owner’s religious beliefs.
Fearing further discrimination, they stopped planning for a big wedding and ultimately decided to have a small wedding at their home.
“Religious freedom is a fundamental part of America. But religious beliefs do not give any of us a right to ignore the law or to harm others because of who they are. When people experience acts of discrimination, they feel that they are not full and equal members of our society, and we’re delighted that the Washington Supreme Court has recognized this,” said Elizabeth Gill, staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT Project.
The Washington Law Against Discrimination guarantees the right to be free from discrimination in public accommodations based on race, creed, national origin, sex, and sexual orientation, among other characteristics. Thus, it prohibits businesses that are open to the general public from refusing to sell goods, merchandise, and services because of a person’s sexual orientation.
Civil rights groups, LGBT groups, large and small businesses, faith groups, and bar associations submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the couple.
Representing Ingersoll and Freed for the ACLU are cooperating attorneys Michael Scott, Amit Ranade, and Jake Ewart of Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson P.S., ACLU of Washington Staff Attorney Margaret Chen, and ACLU LGBT and HIV Project Staff Attorney Elizabeth Gill.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Stutzman, announced that she will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review and reverse Thursday’s ruling. They say Stutzman acted consistently with her faith, but Washington justices “concluded that the government can force her — and, by extension, other Washingtonians — to create artistic expression and participate in events with which they disagree.”
Stutzman, in a telephone conference with the media, described the opinion as terrifying.
“When you think that the government is coming in telling you what to think and what to do … we should all be very, very scared,” she said.