KENNEWICK, Wash. — The ACLU on Thursday filed a lawsuit on behalf of a gay couple in Kennewick, Wash., against a florist that discriminated against them because of their sexual orientation.
The suit alleges that Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland, Wash., refused to sell flowers to the couple for their wedding, in violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination.
Curt Freed, a faculty member at Columbia Basin College, and Robert Ingersoll, a manager at Goodwill, have been a couple for almost nine years. They are engaged and are planning a wedding for September 2013.
Having purchased goods from Arlene’s Flowers on many occasions, Ingersoll approached Stutzman on March 1 to arrange for flowers for the event. However, he was told that she business would not sell the couple flowers because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ.”
The Washington Law Against Discrimination (RCW 49.60.030) prohibits discrimination because of sexual orientation. It 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.
“The refusal to sell flowers to the couple is a disturbing reminder of the unequal treatment that gay men and women have experienced over the years,” said ACLU of Washington legal director Sarah Dunne. “When a business serves the general public, the business owner’s religious beliefs may not be used to justify discrimination.”
Article continues belowFiled in Benton County Superior Court, the lawsuit is seeking a court order barring the florist from discriminating against customers on the basis of sexual orientation and damages for the violation of the couple’s rights.
“We are saddened that we were denied service by Arlene’s Flowers after doing business with them and valuing their services for so many years,” the couple said, in a statement released by the ACLU.
“We respect others’ religious values, but being discriminated against was hurtful and illegal. This business has broken the law, and should be held accountable. We appreciate the support from people across the globe, and look forward to having this issue resolved,” they said.