The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said Wednesday it is representing a Kennewick, Wash., gay couple in seeking remedies from a florist that discriminated against them by refusing to provide flowers for their wedding.
The separate action comes just one day after the Washington state Attorney General filed a consumer protection lawsuit against the same florist, Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland.
The lawsuits are in response to a March 1 incident where Stutzman refused service to longtime customers Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, telling him that she could not provide services for their wedding because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ,” and that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
In a letter sent to Stutzman on Wednesday, the ACLU said that her refusal to sell flowers to the couple violates the Washington Law Against Discrimination.
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“We live in a diverse country, and when a business serves the general public, the business owner’s religious beliefs may not be used to justify discrimination,” said ACLU cooperating attorney Michael Scott, who is representing the couple.
The Washington Law Against Discrimination (RCW 49.60.030), which prohibits discrimination because of sexual orientation, bars businesses from refusing to sell goods, merchandise, and services to any person because of their sexual orientation.
The courts have found that businesses open to the general public may not violate anti-discrimination laws, even on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs, according to the ACLU.
The couple is seeking the following remedies:
- That Arlene’s Flowers agree not to refuse to provide flowers and other goods and services to any person on the basis of his or her sexual orientation.
- That Arlene’s Flowers agree to write a letter of apology to Mr. Freed and Mr. Ingersoll to be published in the Tri-City Herald.
- That Arlene’s Flowers agree to donate $5,000 to the Vista Youth Center in Kennewick, in lieu of payment of attorney’s fees.
On Tuesday, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Stutzman, seeking a permanent injunction requiring her flower shop to comply with the state’s consumer protection laws and at least $2,000 in fines.