The state of Washington has recently filed suit against Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, for refusing to sell flowers to a same-sex couple for their wedding last month. Even though they had been regular customers, she explained that she could not because of her “relationships with Jesus Christ.” That couple, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, are now threatening their own suit with support form the ACLU, but they have offered Stutzman a compromise to avoid the suit. Here are the conditions the couple’s lawyers provided to the discriminating florist:
- You agree not to refuse to provide flowers and other goods and services to any person on the basis of his or her sexual orientation.
- You agree to write a letter of apology to Mr. Freed and Mr. Ingersoll to be published in the Tri-City Herald.
- You agree to donate $5,000 to the Vista Youth Center, in lieu of payment of attorneys’ fees.
The Vista Youth Center provides social services to LGBT youth in the area with a goal of reducing bullying and harassment while promoting leadership development.
The lawyers’ letter also details the harm the couple has experienced as well as the history of attempting to justify discrimination with religious beliefs:
Your refusal to sell flowers to Mr. Ingersoll and Mr. Freed for their wedding has hurt them very deeply. It is a disturbing reminder of the history of discrimination and disparate treatment that they and other gay men and women have experienced over the years. Your rejection is especially painful to Mr. Freed and Mr. Ingersoll because they felt they had a meaningful relationship with you and Arlene’s Flowers. More to the point of this letter, your conduct was a violation of Washington law. [...]
You told Mr. Ingersoll that you would not sell flowers for his and Mr. Freed’s wedding because of your religious beliefs. We respect your beliefs and your right to religious freedom. However, we live in a diverse country, and religious beliefs, no matter how sincerely held, may not be used to justify discrimination in the public spheres of commerce and governance. Instances of institutions and individuals claiming a right to discriminate in the name of religion are not new. Religious beliefs have been invoked to justify denying women the right to vote; to prohibit men and women of different races from getting married; and to support segregation in schools, businesses, and other public places. Just as courts have held that those forms of discrimination are not permitted, even on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs, so is discrimination based on sexual orientation unlawful.
Stutzman could face a $2,000 fine from the attorney general’s suit in addition to the couple’s complaint. According to her lawyers’ response to the state’s suit, she intends to fight and her legal team has already reached out to “a number of national non-profit organizations that are ready for the fight.” Indeed, the Family Research Council expressed its support for Stutzman, claiming that “religious hostility is in full bloom.” Joseph Backholm of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, FRC’s state affiliate, opined that “liberty is at stake for all of us,” encouraging supporters, “Don’t ignore the bully just because he hasn’t punched you in the mouth yet.” Neither group expressed concern for Ingersoll and Freed’s liberty.