OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington State Supreme Court has unanimously upheld a ruling against a florist accused of discrimination by providing a referral for a regular customer’s request for the creation of floral arrangements for his same-sex ceremony rather than fulfilling the order herself.
“Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We therefore hold that the conduct for which Stutzman was cited and fined, in this case—refusing her commercially marketed wedding floral services to Ingersoll and Freed because theirs would be a same-sex wedding—constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the WLAD (Washington Law Against Discrimination),” the court wrote.
It asserted that requiring the Christian-identifying florist to provide the floral arrangements to decorate the event does not infringe her religious rights because the law applies to everyone and serves the state’s interests.
“We also hold that the WLAD may be enforced against Stutzman because it does not infringe any constitutional protection,” the panel stated. “As applied in this case, the WLAD does not compel speech or association.”
“And assuming that it substantially burdens Stutzman’s religious free exercise, the WLAD does not violate her right to religious free exercise under either the First Amendment or article I, section 11 because it is a neutral, generally applicable law that serves our state government’s compelling interest in eradicating discrimination in public accommodations,” it asserted.
As previously reported, in 2012, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson leveled Baronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s with a lawsuit as he claimed that she violated the law by not fulfilling the order for the same-sex event.
Stutzman had been approached by one of her faithful customers, Robert Ingersoll, a homosexual, as he wanted her to supply the floral arrangements for his upcoming ceremony with his partner, Curt.
“We had gone to Arlene’s for many years and enjoyed her service. She did a great job for us, so it was just natural for us to go there to have her do our flowers,” Freed told KUOW radio.
Stutzman stated 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 could be of assistance.
“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.
But the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) contended that Ferguson’s actions were inappropriate since he never received a complaint, but rather filed on his own volition. It also filed a motion asking that Ferguson and the ACLU—which filed a separate suit—be prohibited from attacking Stutzman on a personal level.
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.
A month later, Eckstrom granted summary judgment to Stutzman’s opponents, agreeing that she had committed an act of discrimination. The court also ordered Stutzman to provide full service to same-sex ceremonies, which includes not only accepting the order, but also delivering to the homosexual celebration, and assisting with the specific arrangements and decoration on-site.
She appealed to the Washington Supreme Court, which unanimously upheld the lower court ruling on Thursday.
“Rob Ingersoll and I have been friends since very nearly the first time he walked into my shop all those years ago,” Stutzman said in a statement following the decision. “There was never an issue with his being gay, just as there hasn’t been with any of my other customers or employees. He just enjoyed my custom floral designs, and I loved creating them for him.”
“But now the state is trying to use this case to force me to create artistic expression that violates my deepest beliefs and take away my life’s work and savings, which will also harm those who I employ,” she continued. “I’m not asking for anything that our Constitution hasn’t promised me and every other American: the right to create freely, and to live out my faith without fear of government punishment or interference.”
Stutzman now plans to appeal her case to the U.S. Supreme Court.