Richland, Washington – A Christian florist in Washington has countersued the state attorney general for violating her rights of conscience and religion in declining to decorate the homosexual wedding of a longtime client.
As previously reported, Baronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland was leveled with a lawsuit in March by State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who claims that she violated the law by not fulfilling the order. Stutzman had been approached by one of her faithful customers, Robert Ingersoll, a homosexual, as he wanted her to supply the flowers for his upcoming ceremony with his partner, Curt. She states that she politely explained that she would not be able to help in regard to the event.
“I just took his hands and said, ‘I’m sorry. I cannot do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ,’” Stutzman told reporters.
Ingersoll said that he was surprised by her words.
“I would send bouquets [to my partner] saying, ‘love Rob, to Kurt,’ so it came as a shock to me because I’ve had a 9-year relationship with Barronelle, and have never thought there was a reason that she wouldn’t,” he stated. “I makes me want to cry thinking about it. I respect her.”
After Ingersoll decided to post on Facebook about the matter, controversy arose on both sides of the issue — both for and against Stutzman. The florist said that she received a number of threatening and angry comments.
“It blew way out of proportion,” Stutzman explained. “I’ve had hate mail. I’ve had people that want to burn my building. I’ve had people that will never shop here again and [vow to] tell all their friends.”
Weeks later, Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued Stutzman a letter advising that she must accommodate homosexual ceremonies or be subject to a lawsuit and heavy fines.
“Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation,” he wrote. “This means that as a seller of goods or services, you will not refuse to sell floral arrangements for same-sex weddings if you sell floral arrangements for opposite-sex weddings.”
He included with his letter a form that offered Stutzman the opportunity to recant and agree to comply with the law. She refused, and was subsequently met with a lawsuit. A month later, the ACLU of Washington also filed suit against the florist on behalf of Robert Ingersoll and his partner Curt Freed.
Now, with the assistance of the national Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Stutzman has filed a countersuit against Ferguson, noting that the Washington State Constitution protects “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief and worship” and guarantees that “no one shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion.”
The lawsuit notes that Stutzman has hired homosexuals at her business, and will service them, but cannot in good conscience assist with same-sex ceremonies.
“Barronelle has been creating floral arrangements for Robert Ingersoll for nearly nine years,” the countersuit states. “Barronelle has known that Robert Ingersoll identifies himself as gay throughout most of their nine-year relationship. That fact never made any difference in the way Mr. Ingersoll was treated as a customer. Arlene’s Flowers routinely designs floral arrangements for other gay and lesbian clientele. Arlene’s Flowers has also had openly gay employees.”
“Everyone knows that plenty of florists are willing to assist in same-sex ceremonies, so the state has no reason to force Barronelle to violate her deeply held beliefs,” commented ADF legal counsel Dale Schowengerdt. “In America, the government is supposed to protect freedom, not use its intolerance for certain viewpoints to intimidate citizens into acting contrary to their faith convictions. Family business owners are constitutionally guaranteed the freedom to live and work according to their beliefs. It is this very freedom that gives America its cherished diversity and protects citizens from state-mandated conformity.”