Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a consumer protection lawsuit against a business that refused to provide services for a same-sex wedding. Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts, located in Richland, is the focus of the legal drama, after its owner cited Christian views and apologized for an apparent inability to offer up flowers for the nuptials.
Photo Credit: AP
SeattlePI.com reports that the choice to file a lawsuit came after Ferguson attempted to get owner Barronelle Stutzman to reconsider the refusal to provide wedding flowers to a customer named Robert Ingersoll. The incident began on March 1, when the client first learned of Stutzman's views.
After a March 28 letter from the attorney general failed to sway the business owner, legal action has been taken. The outlet explains:
An employee at Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts said late Tuesday that Stutzman was not present, adding: “None of us will have any comment.” Last month, Stutzman told KEPR-TV in the Tri-Cities:
“He (Ingersoll) said he decided to get married and before he got through I grabbed his hand and said, ‘I am sorry. I can’t do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.’ We hugged each other and he left, and I assumed it was the end of the story.”
Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed, were decade-long customers of Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts. They went online with the refusal and the story went viral. Stutzman refused to change her position, saying: “It’s a personal conviction. It’s not a matter of being right or wrong. It’s my belief.”
Ferguson's office is seeking an injunction that would permanently require Arlene's Flowers & Gifts to provide services to gays and lesbians. Should the company continue to avoid compliance, a $2,000 fine would be imposed for each failure to abide by the law.
"As attorney general, it is my job to enforce the laws of the state of Washington," Ferguson said in a statement. "Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation. If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service."
Stutzman seems ready to fight, though, with her lawyer responding to the challenge and claiming that non-profit legal groups are ready to represent the florist's interests in court.
As the AP notes, the state's anti-discrimination laws were expanded in 2006 to include sexual orientation, which is why the incident is being handled in this manner.
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