Grandmother florist fined, ordered to participate in same-sex weddings

by Will Hall |

(Alliance Defending Freedom)Barronelle Stutzman takes a moment to smile and enjoy the blessings of her floral shop.

RICHLAND, Wash. (Christian Examiner) – Barronelle Stutzman, whose Washington religious liberty case has become a talking point in the debate about Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, has been fined $1,000, assessed a $1 fee and instructed she must service same-sex weddings.

Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom ruled Stutzman and her business, Arlene's Flowers and Gifts, violated the state's Consumer Protection Act when she referred a long time gay customer to another florist instead of accepting his invitation to service his same-sex wedding.

However, this only adjudicates the state's case against Stutzman.

Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, the gay couple in the case, also are plaintiffs and Ekstrom awarded them "actual damages" as well as "costs of suit, including reasonable attorneys' fees" but chose not to set the amounts until all appeals have been exhausted.

CASE BACKGROUND

The fine is half what Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson presented Stutzman as a settlement. But he also demanded Stutzman service gay weddings in the future.

The 70-year-old grandmother sent a letter declining Ferguson's offer, saying she could not sell the precious "freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment" guaranteed in the state's constitution.

"You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of sliver," she added.

She also explained that she did not discriminate against LGBT individuals, but only declines to give approval to same-sex marriages in her decision not to service gay weddings.

"I kindly served Rob for nearly a decade and would gladly continue to do so. I truly want the best for my friend," she wrote. "I've also employed and served many members of the LGBT community, and I will continue to do so regardless of what happens in this case."

IMPACT OF COURT RULING

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who represented Stutzman, said the judgment is just the "first punch," financially. She expressed concerns that the ACLU, which is representing Ingersoll and Freed, will attempt to "financially devastate" Stutzman's business and personal assets -- including her retirement and personal savings.

Moreover, in an online statement Waggoner said the court order essentially asks her client to "surrender her freedom and conscience" in order to earn a living.

But the ruling is poised to have a much broader impact than its effects on Stutzman.

Ekstrom's decision will have an especially large effect on the state's wedding industry -- as seen by similar cases with bakers and photographers popping up nationwide.

Religious individuals with strongly held views on marriage will be forced to reconsider how they earn a living or agree to service gay marriages. If they choose to leave the industry, the effect will be to reduce service providers among florists, bakers, photographers and similar businesses, limiting choices for all consumers. If they remain, they will have to participate in ceremonies which are contrary to their religious beliefs.

The ruling also raises the profile of this case in the national debate about protection of religious freedoms against special rights based on sexual behavior.

Waggoner said the message to the people of Washington "is quite clear: surrender your religious liberty and free speech rights, or face personal and professional ruin." 

Stutzman has not issued a public statement on the future of her business.