Seattle, Wash., Apr 23, 2013 / 01:04 am
A florist in Washington is being sued for a second time after choosing not to provide flower arrangements for a gay customer's upcoming wedding.
Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene's Flowers in Richland now faces two lawsuits, one from the Washington state Attorney General and another from the American Civil Liberties Union, for turning away business for a same-sex couple's wedding.
When frequent customer Curt Freed approached Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene's Flowers last month to provide arrangements for his September wedding ceremony to Rob Ingersoll, the florist said she could not provide services due to her religious beliefs.
On the company's Facebook page, Stutzman described the incident after many receiving comments, saying she explained her position to the customer who said he respected her opinion.
She said that "because of my relationship with Jesus Christ," she could not comply with his request to do floral arrangements for his wedding. It is her deeply-held conviction that marriage is between a man and a woman, she wrote in the post.
Stutzman recalled that the two hugged and Freed left the store.
It was not until after the couple relayed the story to their friends who were "livid" with the florist's decision and posted about it on Facebook, according to a Seattle Times story, that they began to receive attention from the local media, and eventually the state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
After he learned of the incident Ferguson sent a letter to Stutzman "requesting she reconsider her position and sign an agreement indicating her intention to comply with Washington laws."
When Stutzman's attorneys responded saying that she would challenge any action to enforce the state's anti-discrimination law, the Attorney General filed a consumer protection lawsuit against the florist who has been serving the area for the past 37 years.
In it, the state seeks a fine of $2,000 and has issued a court-order requiring Stutzman to comply with state law.
"Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation," Ferguson said in a statement on April 9.
"If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service."
Now Stutzman faces a second lawsuit as the American Civil Liberty Union filed one April 18 on behalf of Freed and Ingersoll.
"When a business serves the general public, the business owner's religious beliefs may not be used to justify discrimination," ACLU of Washington legal director Sarah Dunne said in a statement.
The ACLU lawsuit seeks a court order "barring the florist from discriminating against customers on the basis of sexual orientation" as well as damages "for the violation of the couple's rights."
Attorney Justin Bristol, who is representing the florist, argues that these cases are violating his client's constitutional rights to freedom of speech, expression and religion.
Although Stutzman holds religious beliefs that do not validate same-sex marriage, enforcement of this law would force her "to express assent" for the issue.
"Can the state require a painter to paint a portrait of a gay couple? Could the state require a musician to write a song?" Bristol asked, according to the Associated Press. "Can the government compel them to say something they don't want to say? It violates the First Amendment."
"It's not a public accommodation case," he said. "She simply doesn't believe in gay marriage. She believes marriage should be between a man and a woman."