Our Voice: Richland florist must follow anti-discrimination laws when it comes to same-sex marriage

It's not often you see a flower shop turn away an order for wedding flowers.

Weddings are big business. A quick scan of wedding websites -- of which there are many -- shows a formula of reserving 10 percent of the wedding budget for flowers. On average, that's $1,500 to $2,000.

So it came as a surprise to a longtime customer of a Richland florist when the owner turned down his order for wedding flowers.

It turns out the owner of Arlene's Flowers didn't believe Robert Ingersoll should marry, even though he and his intended had been buying flowers from her during the course of their nine-year courtship.

While shop owner Barronelle Stutzman said Ingersoll is a nice guy, she can't get over the fact that he's marrying another nice guy. "I told him (Ingersoll) because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, I couldn't do his wedding," Stutzman said.

When Washington residents approved Referendum 74 in November, making same-sex marriages legal, we expected there would be some push back. But we didn't expect our community to be the one making national headlines after a business owner decided to break the law and discriminate against a gay couple.

Mid-Columbia voters were opposed to the referendum, with 63 percent in Franklin County voting against and 69 percent in Benton County rejecting it. Nonetheless, same-sex marriage became legal based on the statewide results. And that doesn't give those who voted against or don't agree with it the right to break the law.

Even before November's referendum, the state's civil rights law prohibited businesses from discriminating against homosexuals.

Gay couples also are now afforded all the rights that come with marriage in Washington. But passing a law doesn't necessarily end the debate about its legitimacy.

Same-sex marriage remains a hot topic, and the comments on this newspaper's website on the actions of Stutzman and Arlene's Flowers prove just how divisive an issue it is.

Hundreds have chimed in with their opinions, and the debate is personal and often full of spite.

While we are proponents for small, locally owned businesses, Arlene's Flowers will surely lose customers because of this and justifiably so.

But it also will gain new ones who support Stutzman's beliefs, further exacerbating the debate over same-sex marriage.

As an editorial board, we endorsed Referendum 74. It's a simple civil rights issue. Church and state are separate in the United States. People are entitled to their religious beliefs but can't invoke them as a defense to discriminate against others.

The law gave religious organizations an exemption from having to perform same-sex weddings, but the exemption doesn't apply to businesses. Opponents of same-sex marriage warned that business owners would suffer if they followed their religious beliefs and not the law.

That makes sense because, breaking the law has consequences. If we all got to pick and choose which laws we followed, our society would be in chaos.

To Stutzman's credit, her stand against gay marriage was less vitriolic than most. But that doesn't make it right.

The facts are, same-sex marriage is legal in Washington. Refusing service to individuals based on gender, race, religion or sexual orientation is illegal.

If you do business in Washington, abide by the law.