Tomorrow, exactly one week after Americans elected a presidential administration that threatens the rights of LGBTQ people, the Washington State Supreme Court will hear a case that tests the bounds of state anti-discrimination laws—laws that will, in the face of a Trump/Pence administration, be more important than ever.
The case in question, which made national news back in 2013, involves the anti-gay florist in Washington State who refused to provide flowers for the wedding of two longtime customers.
Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll, who had been together since 2004, planned to get married in September 2013. So they asked the Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, to arrange flowers for the wedding. Stutzman, who had regularly sold the couple flowers for other occasions over the years, refused. She told The Stranger at the time that she refused two gay customers service "because of my relationship with Jesus."
Upset and hurt, the couple did two things: First, they changed their wedding plans from a large ceremony to a small one at home, afraid they'd face discrimination from other businesses. Second, they sued.
As they decided whether it was worth pursuing legal action, Freed and Robert say they began to think about what might happen to other couples if they faced the same discrimination, Freed said in a recent interview with The Stranger. "We have worked with a lot of people who are in a much more fragile state in their lives and... to decline doing your wedding suggests your wedding is not important," he said.
"What would happen if this happened to that one individual or couple who might be on precipice of suicide?" Ingersoll added. "How would we live with ourselves knowing we could have done something and chose not to?"
While Stutzman and her supporters cry religious liberty, the couple, the state attorney general, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, and a lower court all agree Stuzman's refusal to do the wedding violated Washington State's anti-discrimination law. Passed in 2006 (six years before same-sex marriage was approved in Washington), that law says Washington residents have the right to be free from discrimination in public accommodations based on their sexual orientation, among other facts.
Last year, a Benton County Superior Court sided with the couple in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and another one brought by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The state Supreme Court will now hear appeals in both cases Tuesday at Bellevue College, where Ferguson and attorneys from the ACLU will argue on behalf of the couple.
Throughout the case and others like it across the country, religious groups have portrayed the florist as the victim. Groups like the National Organization for Marriage and the hard-right Family Policy Institute of Washington have rallied around Stutzman and appear ready to do the same this week. The Family Policy Institute is planning a prayer gathering during the arguments tomorrow. Stutzman will be represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a well known anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice group that has also recently crafted model legislation limiting trans people's access to bathrooms.
During the debate over marriage, opponents continuously claimed allowing gay people to get married would make anti-gay Christian business owners the victims of lawsuits like this. When the case first emerged, even some on the left claimed it was playing into the hands of anti-gay bigots by allowing them to make Stutzman a martyr.
"I never imagined that using my God-given talents and abilities, and doing what I love to do for over three decades, would become illegal," Stutzman wrote to Ferguson last year.
But anti-discrimination laws are essential protections, particularly for people living outside of blue cities like Seattle. Upholding them protects not just the right to buy wedding flowers, but rights to get jobs, housing, and other essential services without facing discrimination.
"To claim that you're the victim and have done what she did to us is really kind of appalling," Freed said.
The years-long process has been tumultuous for the couple, but they're confident heading into this week's arguments.
In a similar case in New Mexico, the state supreme court found that a photography company that refused to photograph a lesbian couple's commitment ceremony violated that state's Human Rights Act. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up a challenge to that ruling.
"I believe the laws in the State of Washington are intended to not allow this to happen to us or other people. I believe justice will prevail in the process," Freed says. "I look forward to kind of confirmation that gives to us as well as the rest of the folks in the state of Washington—and not just LGBT people."