State Supreme Court to hear Arlene’s Flowers case

Tri-City Herald

The Washington Supreme Court agreed this week to hear the appeal of Richland flower shop owner Barronelle Stutzman.

Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers, wants the state’s high court to review a Tri-City judge’s decision that she broke the law when she refused three years ago to provide services for a same-sex wedding.

The Supreme Court decided to take up the case directly rather than transfer it down to the state Court of Appeals to handle it first.

“Barronelle and many others like her around the country have been more than willing to serve any and all customers, but they are understandably not willing to promote any and all messages,” Kristen Waggoner, one of her attorneys, said in a statement.

“No one should be faced with a choice between their freedom of speech and conscience on one hand and personal and professional ruin on the other. Americans oppose unjust government actions that strong-arm citizens to create expression against their will,” she wrote.

But State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the Benton County Superior Court judge “recognized it is illegal in Washington for a business to offer services to opposite-sex couples yet refuse those same services to same-sex partners. My office will continue to stand against discrimination. I’m confident the Supreme Court will agree that Washington law does not allow it.”

The original case dates to April 2013, when Washington sued Stutzman and Arlene’s about a month after Stutzman refused to provide flowers for the wedding of Robert Ingersoll and his longtime partner, Curt Freed.

Ingersoll, a regular customer, visited the Richland shop to request an arrangement for the elaborate garden wedding the couple intended to hold in Kennewick. Citing her relationship with Jesus, Stutzman declined the request.

Ingersoll and Freed, who now live in Bellingham, were stung by the rejection. Instead of a 100-guest garden wedding, they married at home with 10 guests. The couple said they downsized their plans over fears they would be rejected for their sexual orientation by other prospective vendors.

The state claims Arlene’s violated the Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination. Benton County Judge Alex Ekstrom granted summary judgment in favor of the state.

Also, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Stutzman on behalf of Ingersoll and Freed. And Stutzman is facing legal action from the state Attorney General’s Office for violating the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

The conservative Alliance Defending Freedom has asked Ferguson to withdraw the state suit and has filed a countersuit, which is pending in U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington.

The case has sparked much discussion on local, state and national levels.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.