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Court rules against florist for refusing gay wedding

UPDATED, Feb. 19, 6:20 p.m., with new 7th paragraph quoting Russell Moore of SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

KENNEWICK, Wash. (BP) — The Alliance Defending Freedom will appeal a Washington state judge’s ruling against a 70-year-old Christian florist and grandmother who refused to provide flowers for a gay wedding.

Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., violated a gay couple’s constitutional rights and state laws, according to Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander Ekstrom, when Stutzman refused to provide flowers for the couple.

Ekstrom’s summary judgment Feb. 18 also stipulates that Stutzman must fulfill all future floral requests for wedding ceremonies that violate her Christian faith.

The judgment follows Ekstrom’s Jan. 7 ruling holding Stutzman personally liable for damages against the plaintiffs, as well as their attorney’s fees, putting Stutzman in danger of losing her business and personal holdings. Both the state of Washington and the gay couple, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, who have since married, sued Stutzman for the March 2013 incident.

In her defense, Stutzman had cited a Southern Baptist Convention resolution upholding the biblical model of marriage, according to the judge’s ruling.

“Stutzman has a firmly held religious belief, based on her adherence to the principles of her Christian faith, that marriage can only be between a man and a woman,” Ekstrom wrote in the factual background section of the ruling. “Specifically as part of the Southern Baptist tradition, Stutzman asserts that she is compelled to follow Resolutions of the Southern Baptist Convention Resolutions (sic) (hereinafter Resolutions of SBC). Those resolutions include both a definition of marriage that excludes same-sex marriage, and an explicit rejection of same-sex marriage as a civil right. As a result, Stutzman asserts that she cannot participate in a same-sex wedding.”

Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement to Baptist Press, “Let’s be clear about what this is. This grandmother is being threatened with the loss of her home and her savings, not because she was impeding anyone else’s freedom, but simply because she could not in good conscience participate in something she believes would be morally wrong for her to do. Such bullying is neither right nor American. It ought to signal to us, once again, how imperiled liberty of conscience is.”

ADF senior counsel Kristen Waggoner, one of Stutzman’s attorneys, termed the message of the rulings “unmistakable.”

“The government will bring about your personal and professional ruin if you don’t help celebrate same-sex marriage,” Waggoner said in a press release. “The two men had no problem getting the flowers they wanted. They received several offers for free flowers, and the marketplace gives them plenty of options. Laws that are supposed to prohibit discrimination might sound good, but the government has begun to use these laws to hurt people — to force them to conform and to silence and punish them if they don’t violate their religious beliefs on marriage.”

Ekstrom ruled that Stutzman violated the state’s Law Against Discrimination and its Consumer Protection Act by refusing to provide flowers for the ceremony. In the future, Stutzman must provide full wedding support for same-sex ceremonies, including the custom design of ceremony decorations, delivery to the wedding venue, attending the ceremony to touch up arrangements and assisting the wedding party.

Stutzman, who has said she considered Robert Ingersoll a friend, and had sold him flowers during his courtship with his current spouse, drew the line at providing flowers for his wedding. Instead, she referred him to another florist.

“America would be a better place if citizens respected each others’ differences and the government still protected the freedom to have those differences,” Stutzman said in the ADF press release. “Instead, the government is coming after me and everything I have just because I won’t live my life the way the state says I should. I just want the freedom to live and work faithfully and according to what God says about marriage without fear of punishment. Others have the freedom to say or not say what they want to about marriage, and that’s all I’m asking for as well.”

ADF legal counsel Jonathan Scruggs said the judge’s ruling violates the very law the court is charged to uphold.

“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,” Scruggs said. “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.”

In a 1996 resolution on homosexual marriage, the SBC resolved, among other statements, “… because any law, or any policy or regulation supporting a law, that legalizes homosexual marriage is and must be completely and thoroughly wicked according to God’s standards revealed in the Bible, we do most solemnly pledge our decision never to recognize the moral legitimacy of any such law, policy or regulation, and we affirm that, whatever the stakes (Dan. 3:17-18), we will never conform to or obey (Acts 4:19) anything required by any governing body to implement, impose or act upon any such law. So help us God.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Original headline was adjusted for clarity, accuracy.

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