News (USA)

Love wins! Florist who wouldn’t serve gay couple drops Supreme Court case & will pay men damages

Barronelle Stutzman
Barronelle Stutzman lost her challenge to Washington's nondiscrimination laws, claiming her religious beliefs allowed her to discriminate against LGBTQ people Photo: Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Barronelle Stutzman, the Washington state florist who refused to serve a gay couple in 2013, has dropped her Supreme Court case and will pay the men a small amount in damages. The money will be donated to an LGBTQ youth charity.

Stutzman says she is “at peace” with her decision to accept the ruling that she violated the state’s nondiscrimination laws.

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Represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a group that serves as the legal arm of the far right and anti-LGBTQ hate groups, she had challenged the state’s public accommodations law. She claimed her “religious freedom” gave her the right to discriminate against the two men, and also said that being required to sell flowers that would be used in a same-sex couple’s wedding violated her freedom of speech because others would somehow interpret that sale to be an endorsement of the marriage equality.

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled against Stutzman, saying she had clearly violated the law. Stutzman appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court who declined to hear the case and allowed the ruling to stand. Stutzman appealed to the Supreme Court again asking them to reconsider, but dropped the petition.

In 2017, the Washington State Supreme Court wrote in its opinion, “As Stutzman acknowledged at deposition, providing flowers for a wedding between Muslims would not necessarily constitute an endorsement of Islam, nor would providing flowers for an atheist couple endorse atheism.”

Stutzman will pay the men $5,000.

“We are glad the Washington Supreme Court rulings will stay in place to ensure that same-sex couples are protected from discrimination and should be served by businesses like anyone else,” plaintiffs Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed said in a statement. “It was painful to be turned away and we are thankful that this long journey for us is finally over.”

But Stutzman’s decision isn’t a change of heart. The florist “has chosen to retire so her beloved employees can run her business, Arlene’s Flowers,” her attorneys said.

Stutzman can “finally retire with her conscience intact, and she knows that the legal effort to protect the artistic freedoms of creative professionals.”

The Court is expected to hear other challenges to LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws eventually with the religious right making the effort a priority in recent years, citing their claims to religious exemptions to such laws.

In the case of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, the justices voted nine to zero to allow a Catholic adoption agency, Catholic Social Services (CSS), to discriminate against LGBTQ people. The adoption agency sued after the city refused to refer cases to the agency due to its refusal to consider LGBTQ foster parents. The city argued that the agency’s willful violation of local nondiscrimination law meant the agency wasn’t qualified to get city business.

The Court ruled narrowly in that case, focusing on other exemptions that the city of Philadelphia had granted other agencies.

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