The Washington State Supreme Court dealt bigots a loss today, ruling that the Richland florist who in 2013 refused to provide flowers for a gay wedding violated the state's anti-discrimination law.
Back in 2013, Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll, who had been together since 2004 and regularly bought flowers from Arlene's Flowers in Richland, planned to get married. But when they asked the owner of Arlene's, Barronelle Stutzman, to arrange flowers for their wedding, Stutzman refused. She told The Stranger at the time that was "because of my relationship with Jesus."
So, the couple, the Washington State Attorney General, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington took Stutzman to court.
In 2015, a Benton County Superior Court sided with the couple in two cases, one brought by the ACLU and another brought by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Stutzman appealed and the state Supreme Court heard both cases in November.
Today's unanimous ruling upholds those lower court rulings. In court, Stutzman's attorneys argued that arranging flowers amounted to a form of speech. Ferguson, who argued on behalf of the state, said Washington’s anti-discrimination law requires businesses to serve everyone equally.
In siding with Ferguson today, the court wrote that Washington's anti-discrimination law "does not compel speech or association" nor does it "violate [Stutzman's] right to religious free exercise under either the First Amendment."
The anti-discrimination law is, the court wrote, "a neutral, generally applicable law that serves our state government's compelling interest in eradicating discrimination in public accommodations."
Stutzman's lawyers argued that since other florists were willing to serve the couple, there was no real harm done by her refusing them service. The court rejected that argument.
"We agree with Ingersoll and Freed," the court wrote, "that '[t]his case is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases in the 1960s were about access to sandwiches.'... Public accommodations laws do not simply guarantee access to goods or services. Instead, they serve a broader societal purpose: eradicating barriers to the equal treatment of all citizens in the commercial marketplace. Were we to carve out a patchwork of exceptions for ostensibly justified discrimination, that purpose would be fatally undermined."
Ferguson called the decision a "complete, unequivocal victory for equality." Seattle Mayor Ed Murray also praised the court's decision, likening the case to the "civil rights activists [who] first sat down at Woolworth’s lunch counter to protest racial segregation in 1960."
Stutzman and the rightwing Alliance Defending Freedom are pledging to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The state is trying to use this case to force me to create artistic expression that violates my deepest beliefs and take away my life’s work and savings, which will also harm those who I employ," Stutzman said in a statement. "I’m not asking for anything that our Constitution hasn’t promised me and every other American: the right to create freely, and to live out my faith without fear of government punishment or interference."
The ADF is also pleading for attention from Donald Trump:
But representatives for the Washington State Attorney General's Office and the ACLU of Washington are skeptical the Supreme Court would hear an appeal on this case. In 2014, the court refused to hear a similar case about a photographer who refused to participate same-sex wedding.
Ferguson said he was "not surprised" by Stutzman's promise to appeal. "That said," Ferguson added, "her lawyers are suffering defeat after defeat in the courts. I'm confident that will not change."
Michael Scott, who argued on behalf of the couple for the ACLU, called today's decision "in line with a century of unbroken precedent."
"It is not groundbreaking law," Scott said. "If this case were about an interracial couple, we would not be here today."
At a press conference on the Arlene's Flowers case today, a reporter tried asking a question about another of Ferguson's high profile cases: his ongoing fight against the Trump administration over its travel ban. Ferguson deferred, promising to answer later.
"I view this case as every bit as important," he said.