Washington state’s highest court unanimously ruled on February 16 against a florist who refused to provide floral arrangements for a same-sex couple’s wedding, deciding that her refusal was a discriminatory act.
The case involved 72-year-old Barronelle Stutzman, who denied services for the wedding of same-sex couple Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed in 2012. Stutzman had served the couple previously, but said she could not provide services for the wedding out of concern that doing so would cause her to participate in the ceremony which is against her religious conscience.
A county court judge ruled in 2015 that Stutzman’s actions constituted a violation of Washington state’s laws on anti-discrimination, and Stutzman was fined $1,000 and $1 in court and legal fees.
Washington’s Supreme Court stated that the act of arranging flowers does not necessarily convey an endorsement.
“As Stutzman acknowledged at deposition, providing flowers for a wedding between Muslims would not necessarily constitute an endorsement of Islam, nor would providing flowers for an atheist couple endorse atheism,” the opinion stated.
The state Supreme Court also said that Stutzman’s work in arranging flowers is not a form of speech that is protected, and separated the artistic expression from the operation of a business. The court pointed to another case that involved a photographer who declined a request for a same-sex wedding.
“While photography may be expressive, the operation of a photography business is not,” stated the court.
Stutzman and her attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom have expressed they will appeal to the Supreme Court.
“This case is about crushing dissent. In a free America, people with differing beliefs must have room to coexist,” ADF’s senior counsel Kristen Waggoner said in a statement. “It’s wrong for the state to force any citizen to support a particular view about marriage or anything else against their will. Freedom of speech and religion aren’t subject to the whim of a majority; they are constitutional guarantees.”
“Rob Ingersoll and I have been friends since very nearly the first time he walked into my shop all those years ago,” stated Stutzman, who is reported to have served Ingersoll for almost 10 years. “There was never an issue with his being gay, just as there hasn’t been with any of my other customers or employees … But now the state is trying to use this case to force me to create artistic expression that violates my deepest beliefs and take away my life’s work and savings, which will also harm those who I employ.”
“I’m not asking for anything that our Constitution hasn’t promised me and every other American: the right to create freely, and to live out my faith without fear of government punishment or interference,” Stutzman added.