Attorney General sues florist for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding

Attorney General Bob Ferguson of Washington State is suing Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. The owner of the flower shop, Barronelle Stutzman, says she is a Christian and cannot in good conscience participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony. Nevertheless, Attorney General Ferguson says the refusal is illegal and told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer the following:

As Attorney General, it is my job to enforce the laws of the state of Washington. Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers based on sexual orientation. If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same sex couples the same product or service.

So Ferguson is suing to fine Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts for every infraction of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act. It would cost the company $2,000 per infraction. That means that, if enough gay couples were refused service, Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts could go out of business.

Robert Ingersol and Curt Freed are the gay couple in question, and they had been customers of Stutzman for over ten years. So the florist wasn’t refusing service to gay people in general. The florist simply didn’t want to participate in a same-sex ceremony. She describes what happened when Ingersol asked for her to provide flowers for his wedding:

He said he decided to get married and before he got through I grabbed his hand and said, ‘I am sorry. I can’t do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.’ We hugged each other and he left, and I assumed it was the end of the story.

Obviously, it wasn’t the end of the story. The refusal was reported to authorities, and now this Christian florist is being sued by the Washington State Attorney General.

What does this mean? It means the law of Washington State requires Christian business owners to violate their consciences by participating in same-sex weddings. In other words, the law of Washington State encodes a fundamental violation of religious liberty.

We have not seen the end of cases like this one. Unfortunately, there will likely be much more of this to come.

[I highlighted a similar story in February about a baker in Oregon who refused to provide the cake for a same-sex wedding. Read it here.]

49 Responses to Attorney General sues florist for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding

  1. Derek Taylor April 10, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    This is precisely what many of us predicted would happen. Usually, we were dismissed out of hand and were given assurances that holding traditional Christian views in this manner would never be criminalized, under our Constitution. But now we have not only a lawsuit going forward, but an AG bringing the case forward. This is indeed a watershed moment, but it was entirely predictable.

    • Nancy Davis July 1, 2013 at 12:32 am #

      Such a pity. Looks like I better get ready and pray more for our society.

  2. Ken Temple April 10, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    Along with ObamaCare, the Debt, the Deficit, political correctness, relativism, Islamic Terrorism (Jihadism); the “gay agenda” and everything related to it in media is the destruction of decency, society, civilization – the downfall of the Roman Empire all over again.

  3. Jason Kates April 10, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    Our overly litigious society baffles me. The quick and easy solution is for the couple to speak with its wallet and go somewhere else. No need for the AG or a lawsuit.

  4. Ken Temple April 10, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    Islam is waiting to fill the moral, spiritual, political, economic vacuum that the west is leaving by imploding upon itself; just as they did to Persian and Byzantine Empires in 634 into 900s AD.

    Years ago, the gay agenda forced “eHarmony” to provide a “gay service” – how did they do that? The whole gay agenda is really evil.

  5. Bill Hickman April 10, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    Denny – Just for clarity’s sake, this suit arises out of a civil rights statute which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. It doesn’t strictly have anything to do with the state’s definition of marriage.

    • Derek Taylor April 10, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

      Legal status is often used to strengthen and support these civil rights cases.

  6. Cameron Cloud April 10, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    But SSM won’t affect us. Right. They keep saying this won’t happen to churches, but they also said this wouldn’t happen either. It’s only a matter of time.

  7. Scott McCauley April 10, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    While this is similar to the baker / wedding cake story from February, this one even more clearly demonstrates the Christian position and the world’s misinterpretation of that position. In this case, the vendor served her homosexual customer / friend for many years clearly showing that she does not discriminate based on sexual orientation. While she agreed to sell flowers to them for years, she refused only to participate in the arrangements of a same-sex wedding. Clearly the reason for her refusal was not their sexual orientation, but was instead her desire not to participate in a particular type of ceremony. She modeled love for them as fellow people created in God’s image, while also speaking truth by refusing to participate in a ceremony that is counter to God’s design. Hopefully observers will see that distinction she so clearly has displayed.

  8. Brian Watson April 10, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    I am resident of Washington state. This is a sad story, but I’m not surprised. Last year, when our state voted on this issue, the proposed SSM law was being sold as something that wouldn’t hurt people of faith. I think I even received a mailer that had a picture of a “person of the cloth” (someone in a collar, I believe), with the promise that churches wouldn’t be hurt by this law. I was told that there were TV commercials with that message, too. Of course, they didn’t say that Christian business owners wouldn’t be free from potential harm. I don’t think people realized that a vote for SSM was going to give freedom to one minority group and take freedom from another, yet larger, minority group.

    • buddyglass April 10, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

      It’s worth noting that (depending on the wording of anti-discrimination laws in Washington State) this case could probably go forward even in the absence of civil recognition for same-sex marriage.

  9. Brent Hobbs April 10, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    It seems like Christian businesses could get around this by making up other excuses (too busy that weekend, vacation, something of that sort). But I think faithfulness to Christ probably involves doing exactly what this florist did: standing up for Jesus and his Word regardless of cost. Congratulations to her and I hope the AGs case will be defeated in court.

  10. Stan McCullars April 10, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    Not that it’s unexpected, but sodomites are not very tolerant of those who disagree with their sinful lifestyles.

  11. James Bradshaw April 10, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    Sure, the woman should get an exemption from anti-discrimination laws.

    One condition: it must be proven she has been consistent in her treatment of other customers in the past. This is very similar to how we treat those seeking conscientious objector status for military service.

    For example: has she asked heterosexual couples if this was their first marriage or, if it was not, what the circumstances were regarding the divorce and the subsequent remarriage? Did she reject heterosexual couples who were marrying against the admonitions of Luke 16:18, Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:9? What if a Christian was marrying a Jew? No fundamentalist pastor that I know would bless such unions.

    Either way, I would not sue the woman. It’s tacky. Let’s be honest about this though: in all likelihood, the woman probably just plain doesn’t like “queers”.

    Oh, and Stan … in terms of “tolerance”, let’s remember that it’s religious fundamentalists who are seeking to prevent gays from enjoying any legal protections not only in their relationships but in housing and employment. It’s a little late to start demanding “tolerance” when so many of your ilk have made this a zero-sum game from the onset, no?

    • Daryl Little April 10, 2013 at 5:42 pm #

      Didn’t read the article did you James. The guy was a long time customer, someone she clearly considered a friend.
      But that wouldn’t help your “argument” would it…

    • Michael Lynch April 10, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

      James, why do you come here? I’m really curious. I’m glad you do and I hope you put as much time considering Gospel heavy posts (I think Denny should have more considering visits from people like yourself) as you do these posts.

      I’m also glad you can cite some Bible, but what is your standard for right and wrong? Again, I’m not trying to be a jerk, I’m just curious.

    • Melody Mariner April 12, 2013 at 12:17 am #

      She hugged him. And she doesn’t have to jump through hoops to meet your definition of equal treatment of sin when comes what she has a problem with. It’s between her and God.

  12. buddyglass April 10, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    The desire not to sell products that may be used in the context of a same-sex marriage strikes me as more political than religious. For instance, would the shop owner sell flowers to a customer planning to use them in a Hindu religious ceremony? If selling them to the gay couple amounts to “participating in” their marriage ceremony, how does selling them to the Hindu not amount to “participating in” his idolatrous religious ceremony?

    Moreover the constitutional right to religious freedom is not absolute. Consider the Christian Scientists who are not free to deny their children modern medical care. Or Jehovah’s witnesses who are not free to deny life-saving blood transfusions to their children. Or these guys:

    http://www.saveyourheritage.com/defending_gods_word_on_interracial_marriage.htm

    …who apparently interpret the Bible to prohibit interracial marriage. Most folks (but not all) are quite happy to restrict their freedom to refuse (on account of conscience) to sell flowers to interracial couples for use in their marriage ceremonies.

  13. Don Johnson April 10, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    I do not see why someone paying for flowers means the florist is participating in the ceremony somehow. If she provided the flowers for free, I could see that she was participating, but this case was not that.

    • Patrick Duncan April 10, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

      Don, can you see how this is a matter of the woman’s conscience, vis a vis I Cor 10? I can accept that your conscience might draw a line differently than her, but can you support a fellow believer (self included), who would see providing the flowers as a form of participation? Sometimes it helps to see this in another context – suppose the woman found out that an order had been filled for a an Aryan Nation event or a Hamas fundraiser – would that change anything?

      • Don Johnson April 11, 2013 at 9:02 am #

        I can see why she might think she is participating in the ceremony somehow and so need to refuse to participate, on the grounds of her conscience. It is just that before I would even think such a thing, I would need to be prepared to go the whole Daniel route.

        And where does it stop? Will she refuse to sell flowers to a heterosex couple that cohabitated before the wedding? Will she refuse to sell flowers to a divorced person that is getting married based on her mistaken understanding of some verses? What about if she thinks the Bible prohibits so-called interracial marriage? What if she believes after study that it is sinful if the groom is younger than the bride? At what point does what she is doing get to be seen as improper in a civil society?

        • Derek Taylor April 11, 2013 at 10:37 pm #

          Don, you missed Patrick’s point, I think. This is exactly what I Cor 10 says- that Christians can differ on where they draw the line. We may not agree with each other on where the line is, but we should support this woman because this is where her conscience is at. You can call her a “weaker believer” if you like, but you still need to honor her commitment and faith.

          • Don Johnson April 12, 2013 at 10:02 am #

            Until fairly recently, Bob Jones University based on their (flawed) understanding of the Bible taught that inter-racial marriage was a sin and outside the will of God. Suppose someone went there and believed that and declined to provide flowers for an inter-racial wedding. The question is whether I should support the florist in her decision as a fellow believer? I claim that the answer is no, I should not. The most I can do is try to understand her decision, but I do not agree with it and I do not support her. In any case, she is not participating in the inter-racial wedding by selling flowers and he thinking she does does not make it so, except in her own mind. Based on the idea of trying to live in peace with everyone, I would recommend to her to sell the flowers; but suppose she could not in faith do that. Then I would point out that there may be consequences and she needs to be willing to suffer those consequences ala Daniel.

            She has a right to decline to be at the ceremony, however, as that could be seen as a form of participation or endorsement. And a church has a right to decline to be the host of the ceremony.

            • Patrick Duncan April 12, 2013 at 11:49 am #

              I think this is an apples and oranges thing and a red herring on your part – orthodox Christians have always held forth that homosexuality runs counter to God’s design, which comes most directly from Romans 1 and other passages in both the OT and NT. Comparing this to the very flawed theology on inter-racial marriage is specious at best. So it does concern me that you and other progressive evangelicals cannot see the merits of this woman’s convictions and support her, even if you draw a line at some other point.

              • Don Johnson April 12, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

                I also gave other examples, the inter-racial one could be read using any of those other examples. What if a heterosex couple cohabited before the wedding? Her selling flowers to them for a wedding does not imply any endorsement of their actions by her, except perhaps in her own mind. In other words, she has invented her own problem, this does not negate that she has a problem. And it does not lead to her being at peace will all people as much as is possible because of her mistaken understanding that her selling flowers somehow does endorse their actions.

                I do endorse Hobby Lobby’s decision to take their case to the Supremes as I see it as a religious liberty issue. I do not see this in the same category.

                • Johnny Mason April 15, 2013 at 9:32 am #

                  Don, this is not a matter of just selling flowers. Florists and photographers at weddings are invested in the wedding. They put artistic and creative energy into these matters. It’s not like these people were going to Wal-Mart and purchasing a bouquet of roses. Florists are very much invested in how the flowers are presented, how the couple wants to express themselves, and they are also an expression of the florist. So to say she is not participating in the wedding shows an extreme amount of ignorance on your part.

                  • Jason Russell April 15, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

                    That’s actually not true at all, Johnny. Florists provide the flowers and there are individuals that are hired that design the outlook of the flowers, set them up, etc… The florist provides the flowers in bulk, normally, and may arrange some things like bouquets, but things like centerpieces are usually designed by the wedding coordinator, planner or someone hired by the coordinator/planner.

                    • Jenny April 18, 2013 at 11:24 pm #

                      Jason, I don’t know where you live, but in most of America it is the florist who not only sells the flowers, but also provides the design and consultation work to the couple. I agree with Johny that they are an integral part of the wedding in most cases it is more than just selling flowers.

  14. Carol Berubee April 10, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

    While this is similar to the baker / wedding cake story from February, this one even more clearly demonstrates the Christian position and the world’s misinterpretation of that position. In this case, the vendor served her homosexual customer / friend for many years clearly showing that she does not discriminate based on sexual orientation. While she agreed to sell flowers to them for years, she refused only to participate in the arrangements of a same-sex wedding.
    —————–
    Scott, the same situation happened in Gresham Oregon with the bakery. The lesbian couple had been regular customers for a long time and were served just as any other customers. The bakery only refused to make their wedding cake, at which point the couple filed a complaint. It is curious how Oregon, a state where same-sex marriage is illegal, is contemplating how it will proceed against the bakery.

  15. Glenn Carrin April 10, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

    The sad thing is how many bloggers defend the beast. Consider the Romeike case, where Holder argues for kicking one German family out of a country filled with millions of undocumented democrats. Why? Because in Germany they would be “prosecuted, not persecuted.” This is very parallel to Daniel spending the night with lions, or Rack, Shack, and Benny being tossed into a furnace. They were prosecuted, you see, not persecuted. Just try telling that to God. But conformers will certainly try.

  16. Andrew Lindsey April 10, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    Sometimes slippery slopes are real and dangerous.

  17. Nathan Cesal April 10, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

    The Attorney General isn’t the only one suing.

    http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2013/04/10/gay-couple-makes-florist-choose-between-supporting-gay-rights-or-getting-sued

  18. James Bradshaw April 10, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    MIchael asks: “What is your standard for right and wrong?”

    Contrary to what you might think, I’m actually not an atheist. I’d call myself a Deist who doesn’t believe in the infallibility of Scripture. Why? Simply put: if I were to embrace the values of a literal, face-value reading of Scripture, I’d have to sever every natural sense of human affection as well as any inclination towards empathy. I don’t believe that salvation hinges on a cognitive acceptance of a particular concept of God. I reject the notion that genocide, the targeting of civilian children and human slavery can possibly be commanded by a benevolent god. I cannot embrace a god who throws those closest to me in a fiery pit just because He chose to save my neck. I’m not the tenderest heart in the world, but I’m not willing to harden the one I have for *that* god.

    Now, the God who I hope exists is indeed a good God. As such, He requires things like self-sacrifice, charity, fidelity and so forth. As there’s “goodness”, I also believe there’s “darkness”, and I acknowledge that it exists in this world. One doesn’t have to read too far into the news to see it. Certainly, it’s displayed when sex addicts of any sexual persuasion risk the lives of others for their own pleasure. It’s also displayed by religious fanatics who think God wants them to stone people to death or fly planes into buildings.

    Now, I’ll probably be accused of worshipping a “god of my own creation”. Maybe so. I do admit I could be wrong in the end. Nevertheless, a form of idolatry is inevitable in everyone. If God does indeed exist, He is not going to be grasped as He is through human conceptions or theology or any such thing. Read Karl Barth. He understood that as soon as we rest in our ideas of God … we can be sure He’s not with us.

    When it comes to civil legislation, I’m a libertarian. People should be free to do as they choose so long as by doing so, they haven’t infringed on the same freedoms of others. I’m not a gambler or a smoker, but I’m not willing to mandate that the government penalize you for being one. Drinking to excess might be a sin … but the only time it should be a crime is when doing so risks the lives of others.

    As I’ve said, as a gay activist I’m willing to grant so many considerations to religious believers. I would not have sued the woman in this story. I’m completely fine with working alongside people who do not share my personal values or beliefs or who even disagree with gay marriage. I oppose the contraception mandate. I don’t think religious employers or institutions should be required to perform or pay for abortions.

    It just would be nice to see this respect for freedom reciprocated.

    ….
    BTW, I appreciate that Mr Burk allows dissenting opinion on his blog. I’ve been banned from blogs (on both the Right and the Left!) for not having the “right” opinions.

    • Michael Lynch April 11, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

      Thank you for your thorough response. I don’t think you’ve given me your standard, but that’s okay. I’m glad you visit blogs like this and, considering your views of some of the issues with God’s word you’ve given above, I hope you take the time at some point to study the Bible a little more thoroughly at some point. Perhaps looking at what some godly church leaders have said about those passages you take issue with. Thanks again.

  19. Ian Shaw April 11, 2013 at 10:53 am #

    This is absolutely absurd. All the pro-SSM people that scoffed at us when we gave examples of things like this that could happen. Where’s your argument now? Where are the people standing up for this owner’s 14th Amendment equal protection clause rights? Where are her “civil rights”? I’m assuming that the AG got involved because the gay couple in the story must have filed a complaint. They could have just as easily sought out another florist. Nope, they decided to get litigious. Is their true motivation to get flowers for a “wedding”, or punitively go after someone who disagree’s with their behavior?

    This is just the beginning I’m afraid. We all knew things like this would start happening. The church will be the next target. In the immortal words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “The line must be drawn here…this far, no further!

    • Ken Abbott April 11, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

      Ahab and the whale–the context of Picard’s outburst. Sloane (Alfre Woodward) had just accused him of single-minded, self-destructive obsession with beating the Borg, invoking Moby Dick (which she later admitted she’d never read, but Picard had).

      And he broke his little ships in the process.

  20. Ian Shaw April 11, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    But no one gives credence to that argument…shame really. We’re all seeing ‘Idiocracy’ manifesting itself.

  21. Ian Shaw April 11, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    Nathan- Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed’s lawyers, working with the legal powerhouse at the ACLU of Washington, sent a letter today to Arlene’s Flowers owner Baronelle Stutzman saying she has two options: (1) She can vow to never again discriminate in her services for gay people, write an apology letter to be published in the Tri-City Herald, and contribute $5,000 to a local LGBT youth center, or (2) she can get sued for violating the Washington State Civil Rights Act.

    At minimum, that seems like extortion/blackmail to me. I hope the SCOTUS gets wind of this before they make their decision.

  22. Jerome Ellard April 11, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    James, I appreciate your civil, even kind, response. I don’t agree with all of your comments, but I appreciate your honesty and your tone. As a Christian, I can tell you that there is a good God, and Jesus has revealed him to us! And I also appreciate Denny Burk and the way he handles this blog.

  23. Gabe Keith April 11, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    What if a Mormon dentist refused to provide services to baptists because it was against his consience to serve heretics? Would you be ticked off or smile and tell him you respect his religious freedom? Or a Hindu hotel owner who refuses to give you a room. If you own a business that serves the public, I think you should at least be up front about which groups and under which circumstances you will not provide serivces because of your religious convictions.

    • Melody Mariner April 11, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

      I would be fine with both of those refusing me service. I can go to another dentist and I can get a room somewhere else.
      I have a baptist doctor that has been rude to me since my divorce. I do not have to take my money to him. I will go to someone else and pray that God changes his heart attitude.
      Some places hire rude workers. One takes his money and goes somewhere else. One tells his friends what the service is like and one goes on with his life. All this hateful behavior trying to force people into thinking that something is good when it is obviously not.
      One does not take away someone’s livelihood, an older woman that has worked all her life, just because one WON’T shop somewhere else. It’s hideously disgusting.

  24. Ian Shaw April 11, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    Ken- awesome context for the First Contact reference.

    • Ken Abbott April 11, 2013 at 5:27 pm #

      Undoubtedly the best of the “Next Generation” ST films and close to the top of the list of any of the movies in the series, including the reboot films.

      I confess to having problems getting past the first page of “Moby Dick” myself. Melville’s writing is nothing if not dense.

  25. Carol Berubee April 26, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    UPDATE: Washington state lawmakers sponsor a bill to insert a clause to the state’s anti-discrimination law that would allow for a religious exemption. The bill has not yet made it to committee and probably won’t in this session, but it’s a start http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2013/04/gop_lawmakers_in_washington_st.html.

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