Article Feb 16, 2017

Washington Supreme Court rules against Christian florist in same-sex marriage case

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled against a Christian florist who refused to serve a same-sex wedding because of "her relationship with Jesus Christ." In their unanimous decision the state court claims that, “discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The ruling is the latest legal setback for Barronelle Stutzman, the 72-year-old owner of Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts. Last year Washington State’s sued Stutzman because she refused to sell flowers to a long time customer when the arrangements were to be used for a same-sex marriage ceremony.

Although Stutzman, an active member of a Southern Baptist church, did not have any qualms about serving homosexual customers, she “didn’t want to be involved in a same-sex marriage.” Stutzman had served her friend and customer Rob Ingersoll for nearly a decade, designing custom arrangements for Valentine’s Day and other holidays. But when Ingersoll asked Stutzman to arrange flowers for their wedding, she told him that while she valued him as a friend, her faith would not allow it.

Last year a Benton County Superior Court judge ruled that the law trumped her rights of conscience. “Religious motivation does not excuse compliance with the law,” said Judge Alexander C. Ekstrom in his 60-page opinion.

At the time, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced he would accept $2,000 in penalties, $1 in fees and costs, plus an agreement not to discriminate in the future and to end further litigation. But Stutzman rejected the proposed settlement, and in a letter to the Washington state attorney general, said:

Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important. Washington’s constitution guarantees us “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.” I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do.

I pray that you reconsider your position. I kindly served Rob for nearly a decade and would gladly continue to do so. I truly want the best for my friend. I’ve also employed and served many members of the LGBT community, and I will continue to do so regardless of what happens with this case. You chose to attack my faith and pursue this not simply as a matter of law, but to threaten my very means of working, eating, and having a home. If you are serious about clarifying the law, then I urge you to drop your claims against my home, business, and other assets and pursue the legal claims through the appeal process.

The attorney general continued to go after Stutzman, even though the refusal could cause her to lose her shop.

In the Washington Supreme Court ruling, the nine justices content that Stutzman   discriminated against Ingersoll because of his sexual orientation. They also determined the Washington's Defense of Marriage Act is to be “construed liberally” and that all people “regardless of sexual orientation are to have ‘'full enjoyment of any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, or privileges’ of any place of public accommodation.”

The court also contends that the Washington's Defense of Marriage Act “contains no mandate to balance religious rights against the rights of protected class members” and that her rights to freedom of religion and speech under the U.S. Constitution were not violated.

Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization defending Stutzman in this case, says they will continue to stand with her by appealing this ruling against her to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The Washington Supreme Court's ruling shortchanges our nation's most fundamental freedom in favor of ideological conformity,” said ERLC president Russell Moore in response to the ruling. “Barronelle Stutzman followed her genuinely held beliefs without hostility toward any, and yet finds herself the target of a government that wants to steamroll her constitutional rights. The Court held that the government can force citizens to use their creative gifts and expressive speech to participate and endorse acts they believe to be immoral. This decision is a loss not only for Barronelle Stutzman but for every American who values liberty and civility over coercion by the government. My prayer is that this ruling would be overturned and that the U.S. Supreme Court would recognize the crucial importance of religious liberty.”