Washington state sued a Christian-owned flower shop this week in the latest battle over religious liberty in business.
For nearly a decade, Robert Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed, chose Arlene’s Flowers for all their floral needs. But when they asked owner Barronelle Stutzman to provide flowers for their upcoming wedding, she refused.
“When it came to doing his wedding, I said, ‘I could not do it because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.’ He thanked me and said he respected my opinion. We talked and gave each other a hug and he left,” Stutzman wrote on her Facebook page.
Stutzman said she believes biblically that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The lawsuit, filed as a consumer protection action against the business by the state’s attorney general, seeks $2,000 in fines for each infringement and an injunction forcing the shop to comply with Washington’s consumer protection laws, which ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Though Washington legalized gay marriage in November, the state remains divided over the issue. Sixty-three percent of the residents in Benton County, where Arlene’s Flowers does business, opposed the legislation, according to the Los Angeles Times. Many of the county’s residents are speaking out.
“Stand strong for what is healthy, right and Godly,” one supporter wrote on the business’ Facebook page, while a critic rebutted, “this is about the law … There is not an ‘I believe in Jesus so the laws don't apply to me’ exemption."
Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Tuesday he had written to Stutzman before filing the suit asking her to reconsider. Stutzman refused through her lawyer.
“As attorney general, it is my job to enforce the laws of the state of Washington,” Ferguson said. “If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their wedding, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service.”
On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union also joined in on the fight, notifying Stutzman it would file a separate civil suit for damages on behalf of the men unless she agrees to push aside her Christian conviction when it comes to providing wedding flowers to homosexual couples, publish an apology in the newspaper, and donate $5,000 to a local youth center.
"Your refusal to sell flowers to Mr. Ingersoll and Mr. Freed for their wedding has hurt them very deeply," ACLU attorney Michael R. Scott said in the letter. “It is a disturbing reminder of the history of discrimination and disparate treatment that they and other gay men and women have experienced over the years.”
Stutzman is not the first business owner to face a legal challenge over refusing to perform services for a gay wedding. Earlier this year, a gay couple filed a discrimination complaint against a bakery in Portland, Ore., for refusing to make their wedding cake. A retreat house in New Jersey is facing a discrimination lawsuit for refusing to host a same-sex civil union ceremony. And in New Mexico, a photographer is facing thousands of dollars in fines for refusing to photograph a same-sex ceremony. She has taken her case to the state Supreme Court.