Shop owner cites her "relationship with Jesus Christ" as basis for discrimination
OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington state Attorney General has filed a consumer protection lawsuit against a florist who refused to provide flowers for the wedding of a same-sex couple.
The complaint was filed in Benton County, Wash., on Tuesday against Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland. The lawsuit is in response to a March 1 incident where she refused service to longtime customer Robert Ingersoll.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson had sent a letter on March 28 asking Stutzman to comply with the state’s anti-discrimination law, but said Stutzman’s attorneys responded Monday saying she would challenge any effort by the state to enforce the law.
Last month, Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed, of Kennewick, Wash., said that Stuzman told them she could not provide services for their wedding because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ,” and that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
Ingersoll said he was shocked the subject never came up in the nine years that he and his partner had been customers at Stutzman’s shop, even sending flowers to each other.
Ferguson’s suit seeks a permanent injunction requiring the store to comply with the state’s consumer protection laws and seeks at least $2,000 in fines.
A spokeswoman for Ferguson’s office said that Washington state law doesn’t allow discrimination based on sexual orientation as long as the same service is provided to a straight couple.
“Washington’s anti-discrimination law would not allow the florist to discriminate against the same-sex couple,” the office said in a statement last month. “If they sell wedding flowers to any other opposite sex couple, they must sell flowers to a same-sex couple.”
Washington state voters upheld a same-sex marriage law in November, and the law took effect in December. The state’s anti-discrimination laws were expanded in 2006 to include sexual orientation.
Stutzman did not return a call from the Associated Press on Tuesday night seeking comment.
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