WA Supreme Court Rules Against Florist Barronelle Stutzman
After discriminating against a gay couple and having a public accommodation discrimination complaint successfully levied against her, Arlene’s Flowers owner Barronelle Stutzman fought tooth and nail to retain her right to use religious belief to overrule public accommodation law. She took that fight all the way to the Washington state Supreme Court last year. Today that court ruled unanimously against Stutzman finding she indeed violated the law when by refusing service based on a couple’s sexual origination.
Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Richland, Washington, had been fined by a lower court for denying service to a gay couple in 2013. Stutzman said she was exercising her First Amendment rights.
But the court held that her floral arrangements do not constitute protected free speech, and that providing flowers to a same-sex wedding would not serve as an endorsement of same-sex marriage.
In the court’s opinion the nine justices concluded, “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.”
In order for religious viewpoint discrimination to meet constitutional muster, those standards must be consistent – and in Stutzman’s case, her religious beliefs only prompted action against the LGBTQ community.
The court additionally addressed the popular conservative anti-LGBTQ argument that those discriminated against by a business should simply take their money elsewhere. In the opinion they stated in part:
“As every other court to address the question has concluded, 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.”
That’s why arguments from gay Uncle Tom’s (Aunt Mary’s?) like Chadwick Moore (the 33-year-old journalist who penned the Milo Yiannopoulos piece for Out Magazine) saying florists should be able to use their so-called religious beliefs to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity just don’t hold water. When pressed whether they would support use of religious beliefs to discriminate based on skin color, these same conservatives typically argue it’s different or that the race card is being played.
Speaking to NPR about his gay Uncle Tom beliefs, Moore commented on Vice President Pence saying:
I don’t support Pence’s views because I don’t think that religion has any place in government, but I support religious freedom. For example, I support an evangelical Christian florist who doesn’t want to do the flowers for a gay wedding. You can go to another florist to do your flowers. Don’t unleash the ACLU on granny and her bucket of dyed carnations.
In short, conservatives and gay Uncle Tom’s willfully ignore recent United States history where businesses actually did use the same arguments to rationalize the continuation of Jim Crow. It’s no coincidence the anti-LGBTQ religious right is so organized when it comes down to arguing against public accommodation protections for LGBTQ people in court: they used identical arguments attempting to prop up race-based discrimination a generation ago. (And lost, obviously.)
That’s why Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed – the couple Stutzman discriminated against – filed a complaint rather than simply going to another florist. It was as much about Stutzman’s violation of the law as it was about their inability to obtain flowers.
In Stutman’s original case, the judge found she violated state law when refusing service to a gay couple based on their sexual orientation. “For over 135 years, the Supreme Court has held that laws may prohibit religiously motivated action, as opposed to belief,” Judge Ekstrom wrote. “The Courts have confirmed the power of the Legislative Branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief.”
Though she was ordered to pay a $1000 fine and $1 court costs, conservatives raised just under $200,000 for the embattled florist (defeating the argument that the case was putting her out of business and negatively affecting her finances).
While today is a victory for civil rights – particularly since the U.S. Supreme Court is unlikely to take her case since they already rejected a similar case (Elane Photography) several years ago – the state high court’s decision may embolden Donald Trump to push forward with the LGBTQ “religious liberty” executive order that leaked recently.
- Washington Florist Refuses to Serve Gay Wedding Customer
- State Sues Florist for Refusing Service to Gay Couple
- ADF: LGBT Discrimination Okay As Long As Business Owner Does It Politely
- WA Florist Loses in Court – Arlene’s Flowers Legally Discriminated Against a Gay Couple
- Anti-Gay Washington Florist Pens WaPo Op-Ed
- Measure to Support Anti-Gay Arlene’s Flowers Fails
- Barronelle Stutzman Interview: I Didn’t Break the Law
- Anti-Gay Florist Barronelle Stutzman Appealing State Decision