A Christian florist violated a Washington state anti-discrimination law when she refused to provide service for a gay couple’s wedding because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom ruled on Feb. 18 that Barronelle Stutzman’s refusal to provide service for Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed’s wedding is in violation of Washington's Law Against Discrimination and Consumer Protection Act, ABC News reports.
Ekstrom ruled that the 70-year-old florist must provide the same services to same-sex couples as she does to heterosexual couples.
“For over 135 years, the Supreme Court has held that laws may prohibit religiously motivated action, as opposed to belief,” Ekstrom wrote in his decision. “The Courts have confirmed the power of the Legislative Branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief.”
The ruling comes two years after Attorney General Bob Ferguson first sued Stutzman after she cited her religious beliefs as the reason she refused service to the gay couple.
Stutzman’s attorneys plan to appeal the case.
“The court somehow concluded that forcing Barronelle to create expression against her will does not violate her free speech and free exercise rights under the state and federal constitutions,” Jonathan Scruggs, an Alliance Defending Freedom attorney, said in a statement. “To the contrary, this ruling ignores the pre-eminent civil right law of our nation — the First Amendment — and allows the state to force citizens to choose between conforming their beliefs to the state’s ideology and suffering severe consequences."
Ingersoll and Freed, who are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, and by Washington State, are now liable to collect damages and legal fees from Stutzman’s business, Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts.
Stutzman’s personal finances could also be affected, according to a spokesperson for Ferguson’s office. The Associated Press reported on Feb. 18 that the law allows for penalties of up to $2,000 per violation.
Ingersoll had been a longtime client of Stutzman’s flower shop. She said she politely declined service to him in 2012 when he asked her for flowers for his wedding.
“I just took his hands and said: ‘I’m sorry. I cannot do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ,’” she told reporters.