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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 20, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 08
Richland florist violated law, judge says Businesses must serve LGBT customers
Section One
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Richland florist violated law, judge says Businesses must serve LGBT customers

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A Benton County Superior Court judge ruled on February 18 that a Richland florist violated the state's Consumer Protection Act by refusing to provide flowers for a Gay wedding in 2013.

Baronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, said it was against her religion to sell floral arrangements to Robert Ingersoll and his husband-to-be Curt Freed, even though Ingersoll was a regular customer of her business.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson then sent a letter to Stutzman advising her that she had violated the state's consumer protection laws, which forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation among other things.

Had Stutzman agreed that she would no longer discriminate against LGBT customers, the Attorney General's Office would not have filed suit, Ferguson said in a statement, and Stutzman would not have paid any costs, fees, or penalties.

Stutzman, however, said her First Amendment religious freedom rights would be violated if she was forced to sell flowers for a same-sex wedding. Consequently, the attorney general's office filed suit against her in April 2013.

Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom agreed with Ferguson's analysis in granting a motion for summary judgment against the florist. The case will now not go to trial.

Ekstrom had previously ruled that the state and the plaintiff may collect damages both from Stutzman's business and from her personal assets, so the summary judgment means she faces significant penalties.

"The law is clear: If you choose to provide a service to couples of the opposite sex, you must provide the same service to same-sex couples," Attorney General Bob Ferguson said.

"Washingtonians have enacted laws recognizing equality for same-sex couples, and I will continue to vigorously uphold these laws. I appreciate the judge's decision and am very proud of my team's hard work to stop this unlawful discrimination."

The ACLU of Washington celebrated the ruling, saying it shows that religious beliefs cannot be used to justify discrimination.

"Religious freedom is a fundamental part of America. But religious beliefs do not give any of us a right to ignore the law or to harm others because of who they are. When gay people go to a business, they should be treated like anyone else and not be discriminated against," said Sarah Dunne, ACLU of Washington Legal Director.

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