Court: No religious rancor in flowers for gay wedding case

By Nicholas K. Geranios
Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — State courts did not act with animosity toward religion when they ruled that a florist broke the state’s anti-discrimination laws by refusing on religious grounds to provide flowers for the wedding of a gay couple, according to a unanimously ruling by the Washington Supreme Court.

The court last Thursday reaffirmed its 2017 opinion in the case brought against florist Barronelle Stutzman and her Arlene’s Flowers business in the southcentral city of Richland.

She had appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sent the case back to the state level last year for a determination on whether decisions in the case had violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of religious neutrality.

Neither the Washington Supreme Court nor the Benton County Superior Court acted with religious animosity when they ruled the florist violated Washington state’s discrimination law, the state supreme court’s decision said.

Stutzman’s refusal to provide flowers to the same-sex couple was discrimination against sexual orientation, the decision reiterated.

“We are confident that the courts resolved this dispute with tolerance, and we therefore find no reason to change our original judgment,” Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud wrote.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who sued Stutzman and her business in 2013, praised the decision.

“Washington state law protects same-sex couples from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, the same way it protects Washingtonians from discrimination based on their religion, veteran or military status, disability, race and other protected classes,” Ferguson said.

The Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom nonprofit group that advocates for religious rights represents Stutzman and said it will again petition the U.S. Supreme Court to take up her case.

“Without even holding an oral argument, the state court came back with the same result, repeating verbatim much of what it said in its original decision,” the group said in a statement.

“Barronelle serves all customers: she simply declines to celebrate or participate in sacred events that violate her deeply held belief,” said John Bursch, a vice president of the alliance.

Stutzman had appealed the Washington Supreme Court’s original ruling that she broke the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing in 2013 to provide flowers for the wedding of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a limited ruling in favor of Jack Phillips, the proprietor of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado.

The 7-2 majority in that case found that comments by a member of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission displayed an anti-religious bias, depriving Phillips of the respect and consideration his beliefs deserved.

The Washington Supreme Court  was tasked with reviewing Stutzman’s case for similar issues.

The court said flower arrangements do not constitute protected free speech and that providing flowers to a same-sex wedding was not an endorsement of same-sex marriage.

Stutzman had sold Ingersoll flowers for nearly a decade and knew he was gay. But she contended his marriage went against her religious beliefs and she felt she could not provide services for the event.

State law says businesses offering services to opposite-sex couples must provide the same service to same-sex couples.

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