OLYMPIA, Washington (Christian Examiner) – The Washington Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in the case of a Richland florist who is being sued for refusing to provide floral services for a same-sex wedding.
Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers, was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll, who married one another in 2013, just after the State of Washington began allowing gay couples to marry. That was before the U.S. Supreme Court forced the practice on all states in June 2016.
Ingersoll had been a customer of Arlene's Flowers on numerous occasions. He was told, however, that the company would not construct arrangements for a wedding of two men because doing so would violate the owner's religious beliefs.
According to the ACLU, the men – "fearing further discrimination" – decided against a large wedding and had a smaller wedding in their home.
"We were very disappointed to be denied service by Arlene's Flowers after doing business with them for so many years. Planning our wedding should have been a joyful time in our lives, but instead we were hurt and saddened by being rejected for who we are," Freed and Ingersoll said.
"We respect everyone's beliefs, but businesses that are open to the public have an obligation to serve everyone. We brought this lawsuit because we don't want other couples to go through the experience that we did. We appreciate the support we have received from people across the globe."
Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, however, argue in a statement that government (state or federal) "cannot force Americans to promote messages and participate in events with which they disagree."
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"If the government can ruin Barronelle for peacefully living and working according to her faith, it can punish anyone else in Washington for expressing their beliefs," ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner said.
"Barronelle served the man who is suing her dozens of times for nearly a decade. This case is about government forcing her to participate in an event and promote ideas against her will under the threat of punishment. She stands to lose everything simply for declining to promote the state-approved meaning of marriage."
Stutzman actually referred Ingersoll to other area florists who did provide for same-sex weddings. But that wasn't sufficient for Ingersoll, who the florist referred to as a "friend."
In an opinion editorial in The Spokesman-Review Saturday, Stutzman wrote that her case should concern everyone because the high court in the state is going to be deciding if she should be compelled to "create artistic expressions that celebrate something that goes against my conscience."
"Since I never hid my faith, I always figured Rob understood that my beliefs shape not only how I look at the world, but how I envision and create my art – the art he appreciated for so long. So it wasn't that I wouldn't create something to celebrate his same-sex wedding – I couldn't. This wasn't about selling him flowers, or celebrating a birthday. This involved what, to me, is an event of unique spiritual significance – a sacred covenant. Art, like faith, comes from the heart, from who I am. I couldn't deny my faith – even for so dear a friend – without damaging the very creativity he was asking for," Stutzman wrote.
The Washington Superior Court has already ruled against Stutzman and Arlene's Flowers. It said in its ruling, just before the state's Supreme Court took up the case, that the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) prohibits shop owners from declining any service to individuals based on sexual orientation.
Thirteen organizations have submitted amicus briefs on behalf of Stutzman. A like number of pro-LGBT groups have sided with Ingersoll and Freed.
It is likely that the Washington Supreme Court's decision will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case could even potentially be consolidated with another – the case of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. In April, the Colorado Supreme Court refused to act on that case, prompting the appeal to the high court.
The U.S. Supreme Court is short one justice following the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. A 4-4 tie would leave the lower court rulings in place.