Court rules against florist

Wash­ing­ton backs gay-wed­ding case rul­ing

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - RACHEL LA CORTE In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Gene John­son of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Wash­ing­ton state Supreme Court ruled unan­i­mously Thurs­day that a florist who re­fused to pro­vide ser­vices for a same-sex wed­ding broke the state’s anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion law, even though she claimed that do­ing so would vi­o­late her re­li­gious be­liefs.

A lower court had ruled against Bar­ronelle Stutz­man, a florist in Rich­land, Wash., for deny­ing ser­vice to a gay cou­ple in 2013, and or­dered her to pay a $1,000 fine.

Stutz­man ar­gued that she was ex­er­cis­ing her First Amend­ment rights. But the court held that her flo­ral ar­range­ments do not con­sti­tute pro­tected free speech and that pro­vid­ing flow­ers to a same-sex wed­ding would not serve as an en­dorse­ment of same-sex mar­riage.

“As Stutz­man ac­knowl­edged at de­po­si­tion, pro­vid­ing flow­ers for a wed­ding be­tween Mus­lims would not nec­es­sar­ily con­sti­tute an en­dorse­ment of Is­lam, nor would pro­vid­ing flow­ers for an athe­ist cou­ple en­dorse athe­ism,” the opin­ion said.

Stutz­man’s lawyers said they would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to over­turn the de­ci­sion.

“It’s wrong for the state to force any cit­i­zen to sup­port a par­tic­u­lar view about mar­riage or any­thing else against their will,” Stutz­man’s at­tor­ney, Kris­ten Wag­goner, wrote in a state­ment is­sued after the rul­ing. “Free­dom of speech and reli­gion aren’t sub­ject to the whim of a ma­jor­ity; they are con­sti­tu­tional guar­an­tees.”

It’s one of sev­eral law­suits around the coun­try — in­clud­ing some in­volv­ing bak­ers — about whether busi­nesses can refuse to pro­vide ser­vices over causes they dis­agree with, or whether they must serve ev­ery­one equally.

A Col­orado case in­volv­ing a baker who would not make a wed­ding cake for a same-sex cou­ple is pend­ing be­fore the U.S. Supreme Court, ac­cord­ing to Lambda Le­gal. In 2014, the court de­clined to hear an ap­peal of a case from New Mex­ico that went against a pho­tog­ra­pher who de­nied a same-sex cou­ple ser­vice.

Gov. Jay Inslee lauded Thurs­day’s rul­ing, say­ing it was “in fa­vor of equal­ity for all Wash­ing­to­ni­ans.”

“By rul­ing that in­tol­er­ance based on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion is un­law­ful, the Court af­firmed that Wash­ing­ton state will re­main a place where no one can be dis­crim­i­nated against be­cause of who they love,” Inslee said in a writ­ten state­ment.

Stutz­man pre­vi­ously had sold the cou­ple flow­ers and knew they were gay. How­ever, Stutz­man told them that she couldn’t pro­vide flow­ers for their wed­ding be­cause same-sex mar­riage was in­com­pat­i­ble with her Chris­tian be­liefs.

Wash­ing­ton At­tor­ney Gen­eral Bob Fer­gu­son and the cou­ple sued her, say­ing she broke state anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion and con­sumer-pro­tec­tion laws, and the lower court agreed. The state’s nine jus­tices up­held that ver­dict.

The court re­jected sev­eral ar­gu­ments put forth by Stutz­man, in­clud­ing the as­ser­tion that since other florists were will­ing to serve the cou­ple, no harm oc­curred.

“As every other court to ad­dress the ques­tion has con­cluded, pub­lic ac­com­mo­da­tions laws do not sim­ply guar­an­tee ac­cess to goods or ser­vices. In­stead, they serve a broader so­ci­etal pur­pose: erad­i­cat­ing bar­ri­ers to the equal treat­ment of all cit­i­zens in the com­mer­cial mar­ket­place,” the court wrote. “Were we to carve out a patch­work of ex­cep­tions for os­ten­si­bly jus­ti­fied dis­crim­i­na­tion, that pur­pose would be fa­tally un­der­mined.”

The case thrust the great-grand­mother into the na­tional spot­light and she tes­ti­fied be­fore state law­mak­ers in In­di­ana and Kansas.

Michael Scott, a Seat­tle at­tor­ney who worked with the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union to rep­re­sent Robert Inger­soll and Curt Freed — the cou­ple de­nied the flow­ers — pre­vi­ously had told the jus­tices that he didn’t be­lieve Stutz­man’s flo­ral cre­ations con­sti­tuted speech. By pro­vid­ing flow­ers for a same-sex mar­riage, he ar­gued, “she’s not en­dors­ing same-sex mar­riage. She’s selling what she sells.”

Stutz­man en­tered the florist busi­ness 30 years ago, when her mother bought a flower shop.

At a news con­fer­ence after the rul­ing, Fer­gu­son said un­der Wash­ing­ton state law, a busi­ness is not re­quired to pro­vide a par­tic­u­lar ser­vice, but if it does so for cou­ples of the op­po­site sex, it must pro­vide that ser­vice equally to same-sex cou­ples. Fer­gu­son noted that Stutz­man is not cur­rently selling wed­ding flow­ers, but if she were to re­sume that side of her busi­ness, she would not be al­lowed to sell only to het­ero­sex­ual cou­ples.

“The state Supreme Court has made that very clear,” he said.

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