A new bill filed in Washington state aims to protect a florist being sued for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.
The bill, introduced Thursday by Republican Sen. Sharon Brown, would amend the state’s non-discrimination statute by differentiating between actual discrimination based on characteristics like race, religion, or sexual orientation and personal decisions not to provide services for activities that the business does not support.
Brown’s district includes Arlene’s Flowers, which faces the discrimination suit. Business owner Barronelle Stutzman sold flowers to Robert Ingersoll and his parter, Curt Freed, for nearly a decade. It was only when they asked her to provide flowers for their wedding that she refused, based on her Christian faith.
“This is a business which has been willing to do business with homosexuals,” said Joseph Backholm, executive director of Family Policy Institute of Washington. However, “when you do florals at a wedding, you have to go to the event and be a part of it, beautifying it, and she doesn’t feel comfortable with it. This bill says that this is a right people still have.”
The lawsuit filed against Stutzman said she violated the Consumer Protection Act by refusing service because the customer planned to marry another man. But Backholm argues the anti-discrimination law oversteps the business owner’s religious liberties. He said the freedom of religion is usurped by an interest to ensure that no one is ever offended.
“This is about conscious not about commerce, as many other florists are happy to provide the service,” Backholm said. “This bill clarifies that you can’t be forced to do something that violates your conscience because of some overarching diversity intolerance.”
Gay activists lambasted the new bill, calling it “legalized discrimination” and “protecting (some) homophobia.” But Brown argues the bill is not intended to undermine the law or the rights of gays or lesbians in the state.
“The citizens of the state clearly weighed in on that issue,” Brown said, referring to the referendum last November that legalized same-sex marriage in Washington. “It’s intended to protect religious freedoms.”
As the Washington legislative session has already ended this year, except for a special session to finish the state budget, the bill will not likely be taken up until next year. Even then, with the current legislators, it is unlikely to pass. Still, Backholm said the bill was introduced to make a point about the troubling overreach of the non-discrimination bill.
“The intention of the bill is to clarify that Washington state still has a right of conscious to respect the religious liberty of individuals who have a difference of opinion on many things including marriage,” he said.