Stella Maxwell
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Alaska Town Rallies Around Same-Sex Couple Denied Service by Florist

Ketchikan rally

Residents of Ketchikan, Alaska, have rallied around a same-sex couple denied flowers for their wedding by a local florist.

Tommy Varela, who lives in Illinois but grew up in Ketchikan, and his fiancé, Stephen Kossak, plan to marry in the Alaskan town August 1 and live there after their wedding, Alaska public radio station KRBD reports. Varela’s mother, Kathleen Griego-Varela, last week called a Ketchikan flower shop, Heavenly Creations, to inquire about flowers for the wedding. She asked if the owner would be OK with a same-sex couple.

“After about 30 seconds or so the woman responded with kind of a nervous giggle and said, ‘Yeah, no. I’m not OK with that, so I won’t be able to help you,’” Tommy Varela told Alaska TV station KTVA.

His mother posted about the encounter on Facebook. “We assumed this florist would welcome the support and business of its locals,” she wrote. “It never crossed my mind that our request for flowers, of all things, would be denied due to this being a wedding celebrating, legally, the love of two grooms. It was honestly, a shocking blow that left me heartsick.” Although she and the couple had wanted to support a local business, they have now ordered flowers from a Safeway supermarket. “The store might not be ‘as local,’ but the loving and caring way we were treated by the locals that work there have made all the difference,” Griego-Varela wrote.

More than 100 people gathered to protest outside Heavenly Creations last Friday. “This is a demonstration of love — that love is OK,” Varela told KRBD at the rally. “More importantly, we have an anti protester with a sign that says it’s OK to be Christian. There are Christians on our side standing here right now. No one is saying it’s not OK to be Christian. What we’re saying is it’s not OK to dehumanize and devalue LGBTQ people’s life.”

Heavenly Creations owner Heather Dalin has declined comment to several local media outlets.

Supporters of the couple have donated hundreds of dollars to pay for the flowers. Varela and Kossak plan to give any leftover funds to charity.

Alaska is one of nearly 30 states without a law banning discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. The Equality Act, currently pending in Congress, would outlaw such discrimination nationwide. And the U.S. Supreme Court will soon issue a ruling on whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in banning sex discrimination, already bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In 2018 the high court ruled that a Colorado baker’s religious beliefs against same-sex marriage deserved more consideration in a case brought against him for denying service to a gay couple. The court vacated lower courts’ rulings that he had violated the state’s antidiscrimination law, but it did not establish a broad right to discriminate.

Tags: Business, Alaska

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