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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 7, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 23
Washington Supreme Court unanimously upholds decision protecting rights of gay and lesbian couples
Section One
ALL STORIES
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Washington Supreme Court unanimously upholds decision protecting rights of gay and lesbian couples

OLYMPIA (June 6, 2019) - The Washington State Supreme Court today upheld its previous decision in Attorney General Bob Ferguson's lawsuit against a Richland florist. The court again found that Arlene's Flowers violated Washington's Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) by refusing to serve a same-sex couple seeking to buy wedding flowers in 2013.

'Washington state law protects same-sex couples from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, the same way it protects Washingtonians from discrimination based on their religion, veteran or military status, disability, race, and other protected classes,' Ferguson said. 'I will continue to uphold these laws and fight to protect Washingtonians from discrimination.'

Under Washington law, a business need not provide a particular service, but if it chooses to do so for couples of the opposite sex, it must provide that service equally to same-sex couples.

Despite multiple inaccurate statements from the lawyers for Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene's Flowers, that Attorney General Ferguson aimed to bankrupt her, Ferguson sought and received only $1 in attorney's fees.

The Washington State Supreme Court reached the same conclusion in its 2017 ruling on the case, writing at that time: 'The State of Washington bars discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We therefore hold that the conduct for which Stutzman was cited and fined in this case - refusing her commercially marketed wedding floral services to [Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed] because theirs would be a same-sex wedding - constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the [Washington Law Against Discrimination].'

The defendants appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court.

On June 4, 2018, the US Supreme Court ruled in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, issuing a narrow ruling in favor of a bakery in Colorado that refused to provide a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. In that case, the high court found that the civil rights commission's handling of the case had 'some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility' toward the religious beliefs of the business owner.

Following that ruling, the US Supreme Court issued a 'grant, vacate, remand' order in this case. This means the court expresses no view about whether the ruling is correct but formally vacates the lower court ruling and sends the case back to the lower court for a second look in light of the recent decision. The lower court then reevaluates the case in light of the new ruling and determines whether that new ruling impacts the case. This is a common procedural step when cases involving similar issues are pending before the court.

Case background
On March 1, 2013, Robert Ingersoll spoke with Arlene's proprietor Barronelle Stutzman about purchasing flowers for his upcoming wedding to Curt Freed. Stutzman refused, based on her personal objection to marriage equality.

On March 28, the Attorney General's Office sent a letter to Stutzman asking her to comply with Washington law, which prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Had Stutzman agreed to no longer discriminate, the letter stated, the Attorney General's Office would not have filed suit, and Stutzman would not have paid any costs, fees, or penalties.

Stutzman refused. On April 9, 2013, the Attorney General's Office filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Arlene's Flowers and Stutzman for refusing to serve the couple.

Ingersoll and Freed filed their own lawsuit against the defendants on April 18, which the trial court consolidated with the state's case on July 24.

On Feb. 18, 2015, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom granted the state's motion for summary judgment, ruling the defendants had violated the Consumer Protection Act.

Judge Ekstrom awarded the state a $1,000 penalty under the Consumer Protection Act - and the $1 in costs and fees the state requested - on March 27, 2015. The appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court followed.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson presented oral arguments before the Supreme Court on November 15, 2016.

The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington, with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards, and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

Courtesy of the Office of Attorney General Bob Ferguson

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