Washington state’s Supreme Court has ruled that a florist who refused to sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding cannot claim religious belief as a defense.
In 2013 Barronelle Stutzman, the 72-year-old floral artist who owns and operates Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, WA, said she wouldn’t provide flowers for the wedding of longtime customers Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, who Stutzman knew were gay.
“I’m sorry I can’t do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Stutzman.
Now four years later the nine-member state court unanimously voted that the florist could not use her religious beliefs to deny service based on sexual orientation.
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“People should also never use their personal religious beliefs as a free pass to violate the law or the basic civil rights of others,” Sarah Warbelow, the legal director at the Human Rights Campaign, told The New York Times.
“Arlene’s Flowers is not required to sell wedding flowers,” said state’s attorney general Bob Ferguson. “They are, however, required to sell wedding flowers equally if they choose to sell them.” The ruling, makes a clear statement that “sexual orientation is a protected class — just like race, just like religion,” he added.
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Stutzman was represented by the anti-LGBT hate group called The Alliance Defending Freedom and her lawyers said the state’s ruling would be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
In its 59-page decision, the court stated that the case “is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases in the 1960s were about access to sandwiches. Public accommodations laws do not simply guarantee access to goods or services,” the court said. “Instead, they serve a broader societal purpose: eradicating barriers to the equal treatment of all citizens.”
“Today, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of equality for all Washingtonians,” said Washington State Governor Jay Inslee. “By ruling that intolerance based on sexual orientation is unlawful, the Court affirmed that Washington state will remain a place where no one can be discriminated against because of who they love.”
“I am proud that our state was one of the first to vote to recognize same sex marriage and that we continue to uphold the rights of all our residents,” she added.