The Washington Supreme Court on Feb. 16 ruled a florist can’t cite religious beliefs as justification for discriminating against same-sex couples.
The case, State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers Inc., was brought by two men – Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed – who had asked the florist to provide flowers for their wedding. Ingersoll has been a repeat customer at the shop, but owner Barronelle Stutzman refused his request, claiming doing so would be expressing support for marriage of same-sex couples, in conflict with her religious beliefs and free-speech rights.
The Benton County Superior Court in February 2015 rejected the florist’s argument, and she appealed to the state supreme court. Americans United got involved through its Protect Thy Neighbor project and filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, arguing that Arlene’s Flowers had no right to discriminate.
As AU explained in its brief, the argument used by Arlene’s Flowers could have allowed others to justify discrimination through denial of services in virtually any context. It “would also allow nearly any business to discriminate as it pleases simply by contending that its provision of goods or services is expressive. Gay men, lesbians, and members of other protected classes (and their children) would not know which businesses they could patronize and could not expect the law to protect their rights of access to public accommodations.”
The state high court quoted AU’s brief in its decision: “as amicus Americans United for Separation of Church and State points out, Stutzman’s rule would create a ‘two-tiered system’ that carves out an enormous hole from public accommodations laws: under such a system, a ‘dime-store lunch counter would be required to serve interracial couples but an upscale bistro could turn them away.’”
Alliance Defending Freedom, the Religious Right legal group representing Stutzman, announced plans to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Supporters of Arlene’s Flowers say they want religious freedom, but what they really seek is the right to use their religion to humiliate others and treat them like second-class citizens,” said Barry W. Lynn, AU’s executive director. “That’s not religious freedom; it’s just plain, old-fashioned bigotry. The Washington Supreme Court was right to shut it down.”