KENNEWICK, Wash. — A florist from Washington is in jeopardy of losing her business, home and life savings after a judge ruled against her on Wednesday for declining to fulfill an order for a same-sex ceremony, but rather provided a referral for the regular customer.
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. She states 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.
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.
Last month, 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.
On Wednesday, 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.
“The court somehow concluded that forcing Barronelle to create expression against her will does not violate her free speech and free exercise rights under the state and federal constitutions,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jonathan Scruggs.
Additionally, as Eckstrom ruled last month 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 are stated to be in jeopardy of being seized. Attorneys fees alone normally run hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“The message of these rulings is unmistakable: the government will bring about your personal and professional ruin if you don’t help celebrate same-sex marriage,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who argued the case before the court. “Laws that are supposed to prohibit discrimination might sound good, but the government has begun to use these laws to hurt people—to force them to conform and to silence and punish them if they don’t violate their religious beliefs on marriage.”
“America would be a better place if citizens respected each others’ differences and the government still protected the freedom to have those differences,” Stutzman added. “Instead, the government is coming after me and everything I have just because I won’t live my life the way the state says I should.”
“I just want the freedom to live and work faithfully and according to what God says about marriage without fear of punishment,” she said. “Others have the freedom to say or not say what they want to about marriage, and that’s all I’m asking for as well.”