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Unanimous Ruling in Washington State Supreme Court Case Against Arlene’s Flowers

February 16, 2017

In a unanimous decision, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that Arlene’s Flowers and its owner Barronelle Stutzman broke Washington law by refusing to make custom arrangements for a same-sex wedding.

The case, State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers Inc., was brought by two men who had asked Stutzman to design floral arrangements for their wedding. In 2013, Robert Ingersoll approached his long-time florist about providing flowers for his upcoming wedding to his partner, Curt Freed. Arlene’s Flowers and Barronelle Stutzman refused. Stutzman claimed doing so would show support for same-sex marriage and would violate her religious beliefs. Ingersoll and Freed said Stutzman’s refusal was painful and demeaning. The State of Washington joined Ingersoll and Freed as a plaintiff in the case.

In February 2015, a Benton County Superior Court rejected the florist’s argument that her religious beliefs allow her to refuse services to Ingersoll and Freed. Judge Alexander Ekstrom ruled that both the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Washington Consumer Protection Act, protect the couple and their right to receive the same wedding services that are available to opposite-sex couples. Stutzman and her attorneys appealed the decision to the state’s Supreme Court.

The closely watched case raised important legal questions about discrimination, religious freedom, and consumer protection, going beyond access to wedding flowers and guaranteeing equal treatment for all consumers. TMLG attorneys Beth Terrell and Blythe Chandler were honored to be part of the legal team working with the Northwest Consumer Law Center in submitting an amicus brief supporting Ingersoll, Freed, and the State of Washington.

In today’s ruling, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed that by refusing to provide wedding flowers for a same-sex wedding, Stutzman broke state anti-discrimination laws and violated Washington’s Consumer Protection Act. If she sells custom flower arrangements for weddings, she must sell them for all weddings, regardless of her religious beliefs. Stutzman’s arguments would have set a precedent for allowing exemptions for discrimination. The court agreed with Ingersoll and Freed that “[t]his case is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases in the 1960s were about access to sandwiches.”

Governor Jay Inslee applauded the ruling. “Today, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of equality for all Washingtonians. By ruling that intolerance based on sexual orientation is unlawful, the Court affirmed that Washington State will remain a place where no one can be discriminated against because of who they love,” he said in a statement.