An appellate court unanimously ruled against Barronelle Stutzman, the Washington florist who declined to make flower arrangements for a same-sex couple’s wedding because of her religious beliefs.
Lawyers for Stutzman told The Daily Signal they plan to appeal the Washington state Supreme Court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The ruling, issued on Thursday by Washington’s nine Supreme Court justices, stated that in refusing to provide services for the same-sex couple’s wedding, Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, violated the state’s anti-discrimination law.
“The state of Washington bars discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” the ruling reads.
“We therefore hold that the conduct for which Stutzman was cited and fined in this case—refusing her commercially marketed wedding floral services to [Robert] Ingersoll and [Curt] Freed because theirs would be a same-sex wedding—constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the [Washington Law Against Discrimination].”
The court rejected Stutzman’s argument that the state’s anti-discrimination law infringes on her constitutional rights of free expression and speech. The judges wrote:
As applied in this case, the Washington Law Against Discrimination does not compel speech or association. And assuming that it substantially burdens Stutzman’s religious free exercise, the Washington Law Against Discrimination does not violate her right to religious free exercise under either the First Amendment or article I, section 11 because it is a neutral, generally applicable law that serves our state government’s compelling interest in eradicating discrimination in public accommodations.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nonprofit legal organization defending Stutzman in the case, said the court’s decision jeopardizes the florist’s rights.
“This case is about crushing dissent. In a free America, people with differing beliefs must have room to coexist,” Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a statement. “It’s wrong for the state to force any citizen to support a particular view about marriage or anything else against their will. Freedom of speech and religion aren’t subject to the whim of a majority; they are constitutional guarantees.”
The lawsuit dates back to March 2013, when Ingersoll asked Stutzman to design floral arrangements for his wedding to Freed. Stutzman declined, citing her Christian faith.
Prior to the incident, Stutzman enjoyed a close relationship with Ingersoll, serving him for many years.
Following their conversation about Ingersoll’s wedding, Washington’s attorney general told Stutzman that her decision to decline him service was in direct conflict with a state law that ensures citizens freedom from discrimination, and pursued a lawsuit against her.
The anti-discrimination measure prohibits places of public accommodation—which officials say includes Arlene’s Flowers—from refusing service to customers on the grounds of race, creed, sexual orientation, and physical disability.
After Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against the florist, the American Civil Liberties Union filed another suit on behalf of the couple.
The suits were since consolidated into Arlene’s Flowers v. Ferguson.
In a statement to the media about the ruling, Stutzman said, “There was never an issue with [Ingersoll] being gay, just as there hasn’t been with any of my other customers or employees.”
He just enjoyed my custom floral designs, and I loved creating them for him. But now the state is trying to use this case to force me to create artistic expression that violates my deepest beliefs and take away my life’s work and savings, which will also harm those who I employ. I’m not asking for anything that our Constitution hasn’t promised me and every other American: the right to create freely, and to live out my faith without fear of government punishment or interference.