Aug Sept 2016
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The Advocate

Washington Attorney General Takes on Antigay Florist

Barronnelle Stutzman, left, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson
Barronelle Stutzman (left) and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson asked the state’s Supreme Court Wednesday to uphold a lower court’s decision finding that a local florist violated the state’s anti-discrimination law when she refused to provide flowers for a longtime customer’s wedding to his same-sex partner in 2013. 

“As the Superior Court 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,” Ferguson said in a Thursday statement. “My office will not stand for discrimination, and I am confident that the Supreme Court will agree.”

The case arose after Barronelle Stutzmann, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., refused to provide flowers for longtime customer Robert Ingersoll’s wedding to another man in March 2013, saying she couldn’t provide floral arrangements for her customer of nine years’ wedding “because of [her] relationship with Jesus Christ.” 

On behalf of the state, Ferguson filed a lawsuit in April 2013, contending that Stutzman violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act, which declares it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Although Stutzman filed a counter-suit in May of that year claiming she had a “right to discriminate,” the Benton County Superior Court ultimately sided with the state, ordering Stutzman to stop discriminating, and pay a fine of $1,000 for breaking the law, along with an additional $1 to cover the state’s legal fees, as requested by Ferguson. 

But now Stutzman, who is being represented pro-bono by the right-wing, anti-LGBT Alliance Defending Freedom, has appealed the ruling to the Washington Supreme Court, according to the Tri-City Herald. The florist declined a proposed settlement earlier this year, and her supporters have raised more than $92,000 through a since-closed GoFundMe campaign, notes the newspaper. 

Meanwhile, Stutzman and her attorneys have made the rounds on conservative media, contending that the state-imposed fine of $1,001 will bankrupt the elderly woman and force her to close her business and lose her home

Ferguson filed a 64-page brief asking the state’s high court to uphold the ruling against Stutzman, according to The New Civil Rights Movement. The brief is meticulous in its description of how Stutzman violated state law, explaining that if all business-owners were allowed to deny service based on their personal beliefs, discrimination on many counts would run rampant. 

“This was discrimination based on sexual orientation, pure and simple,” Ferguson wrote on behalf of the state. “Free speech and free exercise rights do not prohibit states from outlawing discriminatory conduct in business. If they did, discrimination of all kinds would flourish, and our country never would have made the enormous progress that we have.”

“Just as it would be race discrimination for a florist to refuse to serve an interracial couple for their wedding, even if she would serve them at other times, it is sexual orientation discrimination for her to refuse to serve a same-sex couple for their wedding, even if she served them at other times."

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