RICHLAND, Wash. (BP) — A florist who was told by the state of Washington she must provide her services for a gay wedding is countersuing the state, saying she has served gay customers her entire career and is concerned the state’s position on gay weddings will harm religious freedom.
The countersuit by Arlene’s Flowers came weeks after Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the florist when its owner, Barronelle Stutzman, declined to design a wedding floral arrangement for a longtime customer who is gay. Washington legalized gay marriage last year.
The countersuit, filed by the group Alliance Defending Freedom, says Stutzman has employed gay people and happily served gay customers, including the gay man, Robert Ingersoll, who wanted the floral arrangement. But her Christian faith precludes her from providing her services to a gay wedding, the countersuit says.
“Arlene’s Flowers has never refused to sell flowers to someone simply because of sexual orientation,” the countersuit says. “But because of Barronelle Stutzman’s Christian faith, she cannot as a matter of conscience participate in or facilitate a same-sex wedding by using her creative skills to personally craft floral arrangements to decorate the wedding. The Attorney General’s attempt to use state law to compel her and Arlene’s Flowers to do so violates the state and federal constitutions.”
Stutsman has created floral arrangements for Ingersoll for nearly nine years and has enjoyed a “warm and cordial relationship” with him, the countersuit says. She has created floral arrangements for him for birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and private parties.
“[Stutsman] has known that Robert Ingersoll identifies himself as gay throughout most of their nine-year relationship,” the countersuit says. “That fact never made any difference in the way Mr. Ingersoll was treated as a customer. Arlene’s Flowers routinely designs floral arrangements for other gay and lesbian clientele.”
In his suit, Ferguson said that under “the Consumer Protection Act” — a state law — “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 said.
The ADF countersuit says forcing Stutsman to service a gay wedding violates her rights under Washington’s constitution, which ADF says “has broader protections for conscience and religious freedom” than does the U.S. Constitution.
“The Washington State Constitution, in Article 1, Section 11, absolutely protects ‘freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief, and worship’ and guarantees that ‘no one shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion,'” the countersuit says.
Stutsman voted against gay marriage legalization when it was on the ballot last year and was “distraught” when she learned Ingersoll wanted her to provide flowers for his wedding, because his request posed “an insurmountable burden” for her religious convictions. Providing flowers for a wedding is an involved process, the countersuit says.
“Before designing floral arrangements for a wedding, [Stutsman] meets with the client for detailed discussions about the types of designs the couple is looking for,” the countersuit says. “Together they review sample arrangements and talk about the particular details of the wedding and its venue. [Stutsman] then takes the information from the client to determine a plan for custom-designed floral arrangements for the wedding.”
Stutsman said when she told Ingersoll she could not work with him for his wedding, he asked for referrals to other florists, which she provided. The media and Ferguson, the attorney general, learned of the situation when Ingersoll and his partner wrote about it on social media.
If the court sides with Ferguson, the countersuit says, it will have a “chilling effect” on the freedoms of business owners.
“In accord with her understanding of traditional Christian and Biblical values,” the suit says, “[Stutsman] believes that marriage has religious significance apart from any civil significance, and that its religious significance is inherent in the institution of marriage. [Stutsman] believes, as the Bible teaches, that marriage is defined by God as a union of man and woman. She believed that [servicing a gay marriage] would compel her to express a message with her creativity that violates God’s commands. She also believed that her creation of the floral arrangements would be perceived as an endorsement and celebration of same-sex marriage.”
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).