SEATTLE (CBS Seattle/AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union in Washington state has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Kennewick gay couple denied service at a flower shop.
The group says the lawsuit against Barronelle Stutzman was filed Thursday in Benton County Superior Court. She owns Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland.
The lawsuit is in response to a March 1 incident in which Stutzman refused service to longtime customer Robert Ingersoll after learning he was getting married to his long-time partner.
Stutzman said serving them is against 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-TV last month. “We hugged each other and he left, and I assumed it was the end of the story.”
The lawsuit seeks a court order barring her from discriminating against customers on the basis of sexual orientation and damages for violation of the couple’s rights.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is also suing the florist.
“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.
Justin D. Bristol, attorney for Stutzman, says the case is about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, not discrimination.
Bristol says Stutzman does not discriminate against homosexuals but does have a religious objection to gay marriage.
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