By Matt Hadro
A Washington state florist must pay fines and legal costs for conscientiously objecting to serving a same-sex wedding, as the state’s supreme court upheld a lower court’s decision on Thursday.
“It’s wrong for the state to force any citizen to support a particular view about marriage or anything else against their will. Freedom of speech and religion aren’t subject to the whim of a majority; they are constitutional guarantees,” Kristin Waggoner, senior counsel with the group Alliance Defending Freedom who argued the case before the Washington Supreme Court, stated Feb. 16.
“This case is about crushing dissent. In a free America, people with differing beliefs must have room to coexist,” she added.
In 2013, Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., declined to serve the same-sex wedding of a long-time customer who had requested her service, citing her Christian religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.
After hearing of the incident, the office of the state attorney general wrote her that she was violating the state’s law by discriminating on basis of “sexual orientation,” and asked her to stop declining such weddings. Stutzman refused out of conscience.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the state of Washington eventually sued her and a lower court ruled against her, ordering her to pay a fine and legal costs.
She appealed her case to the Washington State Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court’s desicion on Thursday, saying that as a business owner Stutzman had to abide by the state’s anti-discrimination law despite her religious beliefs.
“The State of Washington bars discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” the court’s opinion stated.
“We therefore hold that the conduct for which Stutzman was cited and fined in this case – refusing her commercially marketed wedding floral services to Ingersoll and Freed because theirs would be a same-sex wedding – constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the WLAD.”
The law “does not compel speech or association,” the court added, stating that it “is a neutral, generally applicable law that serves our state government’s compelling interest in eradicating discrimination in public accommodations.”
Stutzman has announced that she will appeal her case to the U.S. Supreme Court. “We stand to lose everything we worked for and own,” she stated back in October, noting that legal fees from the case could top $2 million by the end of the case.
Religious freedom advocates decried the ruling.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said it “shortchanges our nation’s most fundamental freedom in favor of ideological conformity.”
With Stutzman facing the loss of her business and personal assets, “it’s no wonder that so many people are rightly calling on President Trump to sign an executive order to protect our religious freedom,” Waggoner stated.
“Because that freedom is clearly at risk for Barronelle and so many other Americans, and because no executive order can fix all of the threats to that freedom, we will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case and reverse this grave injustice.”