Second suit against Washington state florist who refused to cater gay wedding
Last week, the state of Washington filed a consumer protection lawsuit against florist Barronelle Stutzman for not serving a long time customer who wanted flowers for his marriage to his same sex partner. Stutzman cited her religious beliefs as the reason for her refusal to cater to the wedding.
Now the ACLU has stuck its nose into the controversy by filing a suit against Stutzman for accusing her of discriminatory practices based on sexual orientation.
The plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit filed on Thursday are Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, who are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington state.
The couple were longtime customers of Stutzman's southeast Washington state business, Arlene's Flowers, in Richland, their lawsuit said.
The legal battle follows a move by Washington state voters in November to allow gay marriage, but the ACLU's lawsuit is not based on the legality of same-sex marriage in the state.
Instead, it centers on the state's law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, said Doug Honig, spokesman for the ACLU of Washington state.
"Everybody is entitled to their own private religious beliefs and the ACLU respects that strongly," Honig said.
"But a business open to the public cannot use religion as a reason to justify discriminating," he said.
When Ingersoll entered Stutzman's store in March to buy flowers for his upcoming wedding to Freed, Stutzman told him she could not serve him "because of (her) relationship with Jesus Christ," according to the lawsuit filed last week by the attorney general.
Stutzman's attorney, Justin Bristol, said forcing his client to sell flowers for a gay wedding violated her constitutional rights of freedom of speech, association and religious exercise.
"She is one of the few people left today willing to stand by her convictions rather than compromise her beliefs," Bristol said. "She's a very nice lady and doesn't have a discriminatory bone in her body, but she doesn't want to be forced to participate in an event that she doesn't believe in."
This case reminds me of actions brought against pharmacists who wouldn't prescribe the Plan B morning after pill. If someone's religious beliefs prevent them from engaging in kinds of commerce, is this really a consumer rights issue, "discrimination" or is it an exercise of religious freedom?
It's a knotty issue because the "religious freedom" for discrimination defense was used during the civil rights battles of the sixties. The controversial argument was made that for some southerners, religion justified slavery and segregation and thus superseded any law passed by secular authorities. Eventually, the courts disallowed the argument.
Is gay marriage really a civil rights issue? That's the argument being advanced by the ACLU. It will be interesting to see how the courts rule in both cases.