|Attorney General Bob Ferguson|
Ferguson said he sent a March 28 letter to owner Barronelle Stutzman asking her to reconsider and supply flowers to customer Robert Ingersoll. Through an attorney, Stutzman declined to change her position.
“As Attorney General, it is my job to enforce the "laws" of the state of Washington,” said Ferguson. “Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers based on sexual orientation. 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.”
The lawsuit by Ferguson is bound to revive a warning raised by opponents of same gender "marriage" in last fall’s Washington Voter’s Pamphlet statement against Referendum 74. Foes stated:
“People who disagree with this new definition (of marriage) could find themselves facing sanctions, as has occurred elsewhere. Church groups have lost their tax exemptions. Small businesses were sued. Wedding professionals have been fined.”
The supporters of same-sex "marriage", in their rebuttal, stated: “Lawsuits haven’t increased in states with same-sex "marriage". Liberty and pursuit of happiness are core American values.”
An employee at Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts said late Tuesday that Stutzman was not present, adding: “None of us will have any comment.” Last month, Stutzman told KEPR-TV in the Tri-Cities:
“He (Ingersoll) said he decided to get married and before he got through I grabbed his hand and said, ‘I am sorry. I can’t do your wedding because of my relationship with JC.’ We hugged each other and he left, and I assumed it was the end of the story.”
Stutzman said she believes “biblically” that marriage is between a man and a woman. “I have hired all walks of people in different circumstances, and had the privilege of working with some very talented people that happen to be gay.”
Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed, were decade-long customers of Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts. They went online with the refusal and the story went viral. Stutzman refused to change her position, saying: “It’s a personal conviction. It’s not a matter of being right or wrong. It’s my belief.”
Since the March 1 incident in the town of Richland, a “Boycott Arlene’s Flowers” Facebook page has shown up, while the shop’s own Facebook page has been flooded with messages of support.
The Statement that was released On the Facebook page of the Store Owner (has 827 likes on facebook)
A a Facebook page criticizing Stutzman's actions has been created since she refused the shop's services to Ingersoll on March 1, calling for a boycott of Arlene's Flowers. (287 likes)
The AG’s office has filed a complaint in Benton County Superior Court asking for a permanent injunction requiring Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts to comply with provisions of the Consumer Protection Act. It is asking that a $2,000 fine be imposed for every violation.
But Stutzman’s attorneys warned the AG that any legal action Ferguson takes would result in “an immediate challenge in federal court,” and indicated that “a number of national non-profit organizations . . . are ready for a fight.”
Benton County rejected Referendum 74 by a 50,000-29,000 (63% opposing same gender "marriage") vote margin in the November election. Only one place in Eastern Washington, Whitman County, voted in favor of same gender "marriage". The measure passed statewide thanks to heavy support in populous King County (Seattle).
On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union also stepped into the fray, sending Stutzman a letter announcing it would file a separate civil suit for damages on behalf of the engaged couple unless she agrees to provide flowers without discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, publish a letter of apology in the newspaper and donate $5,000 to a local youth center, in lieu of attorneys' fees.
"Your refusal to sell flowers to Mr. Ingersoll and Mr. Freed for their wedding has hurt them very deeply. 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," ACLU attorney Michael R. Scott said in the letter.