A florist in Washington state is being sued for adhering to her Christian beliefs in declining to make flower arrangements for one couple’s wedding.
Before the lawsuit, Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., had employed workers who identify as homosexual and sold floral arrangements to gay and lesbian customers.
One such customer turned out to be one of the men who would sue her for not being willing to be hired for their same-sex wedding.
Unlike businesses that face similar lawsuits for refusing to provide specific wedding-related services to gay and lesbian couples on religious grounds—among them bakers in Oregon and farmers in New York—Stutzman is being sued in both a professional and personal capacity.
That means she could lose everything she owns.
Here’s the Backstory
Barronelle Stutzman is a great-grandmother who has been in the floral industry for more than 40 years.
When Washington state legalized same-sex marriage in 2012, she decided that as a matter of conscience she could not participate in or further same-sex ceremonies by using her creative skills in connection with them.
So when two men, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, asked her to design flower arrangements for their wedding, Stutzman politely declined and referred them to other vendors in the area. Ingersoll had been a valued customer, she says, so it was difficult.
The state’s attorney general said Stutzman’s decision to stand by her Christian faith was in direct conflict with a state law ensuring freedom from discrimination.
The measure prohibits places of public accommodation–which officials say include Arlene’s Flowers–from discriminating on grounds of race, creed, sexual orientation, physical disability and so forth.
In April 2013, two months after Washington redefined marriage to include same-sex couples, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers and its owner. (The change to state law subsequently was challenged and didn’t become official until Dec. 6.)
At the time, the gay couple seeking the flower arrangements had not yet filed a formal complaint against Stutzman’s business.
“They’re trying to set an example of her and punish her.” -@AllianceDefends
Stutzman is represented by Kristen Waggoner, a lawyer at Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization dedicated to defending religious liberty.
But a few days later, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington filed a civil suit against Stutzman on behalf of Ingersoll and Freed.
The suits, since consolidated into Arlene’s Flowers v. Ferguson, were filed in Washington’s Benton County Superior Court.
Waggoner says it is unprecedented for the Washington attorney general’s office to sue a family business owner in a personal capacity unless that owner has committed acts of fraud or misrepresentation.
“They’re trying to set an example of her and punish her,” says Waggoner, noting the suit has the potential to cripple Stutzman’s livelihood. “She’s not wealthy, so common sense would tell you that it’s going to hurt pretty bad.”