A Christian florist who refused to provide flowers for a gay couple's wedding violated Washington state anti-discrimination law, a judge ruled on Wednesday.
Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom found that Barronelle Stutzman violated Washington’s Law Against Discrimination and Consumer Protection Act when she declined to provide service to Robert Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed.
Ekstrom granted a summary judgement, ruling that Stutzman, 70, must provide the same services to same-sex couples as she does to opposite-sex couples; the case will not proceed to trial in March as originally expected.
"For over 135 years, the Supreme Court has held that laws may prohibit religiously motivated action, as opposed to belief," Ekstrom wrote in his decision, according to the Associated Press. "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."
The state and the gay couple at the center of the legal battle are both able to collect damages and legal fees from Stutzman's business — Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts — and from the florist personally, according to her attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal firm.
"The court somehow concluded that forcing Barronelle to create expression against her will does not violate her free speech and free exercise rights under the state and federal constitutions," Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Jonathan Scruggs said in a statement. "To the contrary, this ruling ignores the pre-eminent civil right law of our nation – the First Amendment – and allows the state to force citizens to choose between conforming their beliefs to the state’s ideology and suffering severe consequences."
The florist's attorneys plan to appeal the case.
Stutzman has been sued by both Ingersoll and Freed, who are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, and by Washington state, in a charge led by Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
As TheBlaze reported last month, Ekstrom previously ruled that Stutzman could be personally sued and held liable by the attorney general’s office over her refusal to provide service to the couple, with the Associated Press reporting on Wednesday that the law allows for penalties of up to $2,000 per violation, plus legal fees.
A spokesperson for Ferguson's office said that it is likely these fees will be sought both against Stutzman and Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts.
The case has been forging on for two years now, as Stutzman was first sued by Ferguson in 2013 after she cited her Christian faith as the reason for her decision.
“As attorney general, it is my job to enforce the laws of the state of Washington,” Ferguson said in a statement issued at the beginning of the legal ordeal. “Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation.”
But Stutzman has doubled down and refused to provide service to same-sex couples, claiming that she had politely declined service to longtime client Robert Ingersoll in 2012 and that her decision is based on her biblical views.
“I just took his hands and said, ‘I’m sorry. I cannot do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ,” she once told reporters, speaking of how she handled the refusal.
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