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Judge combines lawsuits against florist who refused flowers for gay wedding

Judge combines lawsuits against florist who refused flowers for gay wedding

RICHLAND, Wash. — A judge in Washington state on Friday consolidated two lawsuits, one filed by the state attorney general and the other filed by a gay couple, in a dispute over a florist who declined to provide flowers for the couple’s wedding because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Benton County Superior Court Judge Salvador Mendoza combined the lawsuits against Arlene’s Flowers of Richland, Wash., into a single case for purposes of discovery.

Barronelle Stutzman

In other action Friday, Mendoza refused a request by attorneys representing the owner of Arlene’s Flowers to recuse himself because of the judge’s recent service as a board member for Columbia Basin College, where one of the plaintiffs works.

Mendoza said he has interacted with plaintiff Curt Freed during board meetings but does not know him socially and sees no reason to recuse himself.

Mendoza said his wife also has bought flowers from Arlene’s Flowers on several occasions. “That’s what happens in small communities,” he said.

The Tri-City Herald reported that two other judges have recused themselves from the case in the past week.

The Washington state attorney general’s office sued the shop owner, Baronelle Stutzman, saying she violated consumer protection law by refusing service in March to longtime customers Freed and Robert Ingersoll.

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Under state law, it’s illegal for businesses to refuse to sell goods, merchandise and services to any person because of their sexual orientation.

Stutzman says she has no problem with homosexual customers but won’t support gay weddings because of her religious beliefs.

In addition to the state, the ACLU sued Stutzman on behalf of the Kennewick, Wash., couple. A religious freedom group, Alliance Defending Freedom, countersued the state on behalf of Stutzman.

Washington voters legalized same-sex marriage last November. However, protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation were codified in 2006 in one of the first pushes to expand civil rights to the gay community.

Associated Press contributed to this report.
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