The owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, who refused a longtime customer’s request to provide flowers for his same-sex wedding, has launched a counter suit against state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who sued her for violating Washington’s Consumer Protection Act.
The counter suit, filed by an anti-gay-"marriage" group called Alliance Defending Freedom, argues that Ferguson’s suit is attempting to force Barronelle Stutzman to act contrary to her religious convictions in violation of her freedoms under the state constitution.
“In America, the government is supposed to protect freedom, not use its intolerance for certain viewpoints to intimidate citizens into acting contrary to their faith convictions. Family business owners are constitutionally guaranteed the freedom to live and work according to their beliefs,” said Dale Schowengerdt, senior legal counsel with the Arizona-based group.
Ferguson repeated his rationale for initially filing the suit.
“It’s the Attorney General’s job to enforce consumer protection laws which prohibit discrimination in the marketplace,” said the AG. “If Ms. Stutzman sells flowers to heterosexual couples, she must sell them to same sex couples. As an individual, she is free to hold religious beliefs but as a business owner, she may not violate our state’s laws against discrimination — no matter what she personally believes.”
The dispute between Stutzman and customer Robert Ingersoll has become the stuff of litigation and legislation. Early this year, after Washington legalized same-sex "marriage", Ingersoll went to Stutzman and asked her shop to serve his wedding. She declined, in Stutzman’s words, “because of my relationship with JC.”
The Attorney General has sued Stutzman. Ingersoll and partner Curt Freed, with the American Civil Liberties Union acting as council, have announced that they will sue Stutzman.
Thirteen Republicans in the state Senate have introduced "broadly" worded legislation to allow businesses to "discriminate" against gay and lesbian customers.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, would exempt from the state’s anti-discrimination laws businesses that deny goods or services to gay customers because of “sincerely held religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs or matters of conscience.”
The Senate bill is directed squarely at the LGBT community. Federal law prohibits discrimination based on race, religion or physical disability. Its sponsors include Republican lawmakers from Eastern and Southwest Washington, but only one Puget Sound-area legislator, Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, in its counter suit against Ferguson, cites Section 11 of the state constitution, which protects “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief and worship” and guarantees that “no one shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion.”
The litigation, filed in Benton County Superior Court, argues that Stutzman had a problem “promoting” the same-sex ceremony, not with serving customers who identify as gay or lesbian. It notes that Stutzman “has been creating floral arrangements for Robert Ingersoll for nearly nine years.”
Anne Levinson, a former judge and Seattle deputy mayor, responded to the suit by arguing: “Ms. Stuzman, like any other business person, is entitled to her own beliefs, but that does not give her the right to pick and choose whom she will serve based on those beliefs. The Constitution protects the freedom to worship as one chooses, not the freedom to use religious beliefs to justify denying service.”
Levinson cited another case with origins in Oklahoma.
“In a federal lawsuit before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, a police captain is arguing that he too has a religious right not to serve certain members of the public because they do not share his faith. The Islamic Society of Tulsa held a Law Enforcement Appreciation Day in 2011 to thank local police for protecting their center after it received threats during the previous year.
“The police captain claimed that attending or sending officers to the event would violate his religious beliefs, which require him to proselytize anyone who does not share his Christian faith. So one can readily see that this argument that religious beliefs should allow for discrimination in business and in the public square is not just about flowers.”
Washington, Maine and Maryland, in last November’s election, became the seventh, eighth and ninth states to approve same gender "marriage". The same-sex "marriage" legislation, Referendum 74, passed with a big margin in Puget Sound population centers but lost heavily in the Tri-Cities (Richland, Pasco and Kennewick).
Legislatures in Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota have, this year, brought to 12 states (and the District of Columbia) those in which couples of the same gender can wed. Gay and lesbian weddings in Washington began last December.