April 2015 Church & State | People & Events

A Washington state florist who was found guilty of discrimination over her refusal to provide flowers for the wedding of a same-sex couple has rejected a settlement offer because it included a requirement that she not engage in similar discrimination in the future.

Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland, was recently offered a settlement that would require her to pay a $2,000 fine, plus $1 in legal and court fees. But the deal would have also required her to stop refusing service to gay clients in the future. In rejecting the offer from Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Stutzman compared it to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus

“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,” Stutzman wrote to Ferguson in a letter that included her company’s logo. “[T]hat is something I will not do.”

Stutzman, a Southern Baptist, has thus far been unsuccessful in her legal proceedings. She got into hot water in March 2013 when two repeat customers, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, approached her about supplying flowers for their wedding. Court documents said Ingersoll had patronized Stutzman’s business at least 20 times previously, and she was aware that he is gay. Still, she refused to fulfill Ingersoll’s request because, she argued, doing so would be equivalent to condoning same-sex marriage.

Washington law forbids discrimination against LGBT residents, and Stutzman was sued for discrimination.

Stutzman later testified that she “just put my hands on his and told him because of my relationship with Jesus Christ I couldn’t do that, couldn’t do his wedding.” She also wrote about her stance on her business’s Facebook page.

In February, a judge rejected Stutzman’s argument. Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander C. Ekstrom said in the case of Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers that religious beliefs, no matter how genuine, do not exempt Stutzman from obeying the law.

“Religious motivation does not excuse compliance with the law,” Ekstrom wrote. “In trade and commerce, and more particularly when seeking to prevent discrimination in public accommodations, the courts have confirmed the power of the legislative branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief.”  

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a large Religious Right legal group founded by radio and television preachers that represents Stutzman, has said it plans to appeal.

“[T]he government will bring about your personal and professional ruin if you don’t help celebrate same-sex marriage,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner in a statement.

But Stutzman also faces a second lawsuit, State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers, brought by Ferguson under the state’s consumer protection clause.

“Washington state businesses cannot discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation,” Ferguson said in a statement. “If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service.”

Since Stutzman rejected a settlement, she will be subject to summary judgment whether or not the case goes to trial. Stutzman faces a maximum fine of $2,000 as well as attorney and court fees. As for Ingersoll and Freed, they sought just $7.91 to cover the cost of driving to find another florist.

Meanwhile, the Religious Right is treating Stutzman as something of a martyr.

“[A] judge has told th­­­­­e Christian florist she is entitled to her beliefs – but not to act on them!” cried the American Family Association. “The court also ruled recently that both the state and the same-sex couple, who each filed lawsuits against her, may collect damages and attorneys’ fees not only from her business, but from Stutzman personally. That means [she]… may lose not only her business, but also her home and savings because she lives her life and operates her business according to her beliefs.”