Politics

Wash. State Sues Florist Who Refused To Provide Wedding Flowers To Gay Couple

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File photo of a courtroom. (credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

File photo of a courtroom. (credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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OLYMPIA, Wash. (CBS Seattle/AP) — Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a consumer protection lawsuit against a florist who refused to provide wedding flowers to a same-sex couple.

The complaint was filed in Benton County on Tuesday against Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland. The lawsuit is in response to a March 1 incident where she refused service to longtime customer Robert Ingersoll.

Stutzman did not return a call Tuesday night seeking comment.

Ferguson had sent a letter on March 28 asking her to comply with the law, but said Stutzman’s attorneys responded Monday saying she would challenge any state action to enforce the law. Washington state voters upheld a same-sex marriage law in November, and the law took effect in December. The state’s anti-discrimination laws were expanded in 2006 to include sexual orientation.

“As Attorney General, it is my job to enforce the laws of the state of Washington,” Ferguson said, according to Seattle Post Intelligencer. “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.”

Ferguson seeks a permanent injunction requiring the store to comply with the state’s consumer protection laws and seeks at least $2,000 in fines.

Stutzman told KEPR-TV last month that she couldn’t serve Ingersoll because of her religious beliefs.

“(Ingersoll) 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,’ she told KEPR. “We hugged each other and he left, and I assumed it was the end of the story.”

Justin D. Bristol, attorney for Stutzman, says the case is about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, not discrimination.

He said Wednesday they are still planning their response to the lawsuit announced Tuesday by Ferguson.

Bristol says Stutzman does not discriminate against homosexuals but does have a religious objection to gay marriage.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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