OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of a florist who was fined last year after she was sued for providing a referral rather than personally being involved with the same-sex “wedding” of a regular customer who she considered her friend.
As previously reported, Baronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland was leveled with a lawsuit March 2012 by State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who claimed 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 Freed. She said that she politely explained that she would not be able to help in regard to the event, but referred him to three other florists that may help.
“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.
But 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. 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 discrimination suit.
In January 2015, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Eckstrom—while throwing out a charge that accused Stutzman of directing her business to violate the state’s anti-discrimination laws—ruled that the florist may be held personally responsible for the incident, and agreed that she had committed an act of discrimination.
“For over 135 years, the Supreme Court has held that laws may prohibit religiously motivated action, as opposed to belief,” he 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.”
It was soon realized that because of Eckstrom’s declaration that the state and the two homosexual men may collect damages and attorneys’ fees from both Arlene’s Flowers and Stutzman herself, her business, home and bank accounts were in jeopardy of being seized. Attorneys fees alone normally run hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The court also ordered Stutzman to provide full service to same-sex ceremonies, which includes not only accepting the order for the event, but also delivering to the homosexual celebration, and assisting with the specific arrangements and decoration on-site. The following month, Eckstrom ordered that Stutzman pay $1,000 to Ferguson as a civil penalty, and reiterated his initial order that she service the events.
The legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) appealed the ruling to the Washington Supreme Court, which agreed on Wednesday to hear the case.
“This case is not about refusing service on the basis of sexual orientation or dislike for another person who is preciously created in God’s image,” Stutzman wrote in a recent op-ed for The Seattle Times in response to a piece that Ingersoll wrote with Freed. “I sold flowers to Rob for years. I helped him find someone else to design his wedding arrangements. I count him as a friend.”
“I want to believe that a state as diverse as Washington, with our long commitment to personal and religious freedoms, would be as willing to honor my right to make those kinds of choices as it is to honor Rob’s right to make his,” she said.