Florist settles gay discrimination case


Nine years after telling a gay couple that she couldn’t make a flower arrangement for their wedding because of her religious beliefs, the owner of a florist in Washington state agreed to pay $ 5,000 to settle the dispute and withdraw its long-term offer to get the United States Supreme Court to rule in its favor.

The problem, however, has not gone away. The Alliance Defending Freedom group, which has assisted Arlene’s Flowers owner Barronelle Stutzman in her efforts to circumvent Washington state’s laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation, has other cases pending. One is at the Supreme Court of the United States; the other should land there next year.

But the Nov. 18 announcements from the ADF and the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the gay couple, won out a case that has dragged on for four years on the US Supreme Court’s roster. Neither side is touting victory.

While the florist has agreed to withdraw the last of her many US Supreme Court petitions, she has not agreed to stop discriminating. Instead, the 77-year-old businesswoman said she would retire and leave the company and let her “beloved employees” run it.

Gay couple Rob Ingersoll and Carl Freed said they would donate the $ 5,000 settlement money to a PFLAG local and match it with a $ 5,000 contribution.

But Stutzman’s statement made it clear that she feared losing. She said the lawsuits against her for refusing to serve the gay couple threatened to force her to “pay a devastating price” for asserting her religious beliefs in the market, “including being threatened with losing my home,” my business and my savings. “

The ADF website says Stutzman ended the legal dispute between her and the gay couple by agreeing to a settlement that allows her to avoid being forced “to act against her religious beliefs or pay legal fees.” ‘potentially ruinous lawyer …’.

Stutzman’s legal defense was until his very last blow: a petition asking the United States Supreme Court to rehear its refusal to accept Stutzman’s appeal against a Washington Supreme Court ruling against her. Over the past five years, more than 500 parties who have been denied review by the Supreme Court have filed such motions for a new hearing; only three were granted.

“At 77, it’s time to retire and hand my business over to someone else,” Stutzman said. “So I paid Rob $ 5,000 and I’m passing the legal torch on to other artists …”

Neither Stutzman nor ADF have indicated how this workshop will unfold now. According to the briefs filed in the case, Arlene’s Flowers is a “family owned and operated business”.

The ACLU statement on the settlement said Stutzman’s withdrawal of the rehearing motion “leaves in place the two unanimous decisions of the Washington Supreme Court that the Constitution does not license to discriminate against LGBTQ people.” .

Legal conflict
The legal conflict did not involve Washington state law recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry. This law was passed in 2012. Instead, it implied state law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in public places. And it started when Ingersoll and Freed decided in 2013 to get married. They had a long-standing friendly relationship with Stutzman and Arlene’s Flowers, and Ingersoll asked him to create an arrangement for the ceremony. Stutzman told Ingersoll that her “relationship with Jesus Christ” had kept her from making an arrangement for their marriage. She provided the names of three other florists who she said could provide the flowers.

The couple posted on Facebook of the pain they felt. Similar incidents were happening across the country – wedding venues were turning down couples in Texas and New York; a wedding photographer turned down a lesbian couple in New Mexico; and bakeries have refused same-sex marriages in Oregon and Colorado.

News media picked up on the dispute and brought it to the attention of state attorney general Bob Ferguson (who is still in office). Ferguson’s office filed a lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers for violating the state’s public housing law. Soon after, the ACLU filed a complaint on behalf of the gay couple. The ACLU civil lawsuit called on Stutzman to serve all customers regardless of their sexual orientation, apologize for turning down Ingersoll and Freed, and pay $ 5,000 to a local LGBTQ youth group.

A state superior court judge ruled against Stutzman in 2015, saying the United States Supreme Court had ruled for 135 years that “laws can prohibit actions with religious motives, as opposed to creed.”

“In trade and commerce, and more particularly when seeking to prevent discrimination in public places, courts have upheld the power of the legislature to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even when the motivation for such conduct conduct is based on religious belief, ”the judge said.

The Washington Supreme Court upheld this decision; ADF appealed the case to the US Supreme Court; and, in 2018, the Supreme Court returned the case to the Washington Supreme Court with instructions to further consider the case in light of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in the Masterpiece case. Cakeshop v. Colorado.

In Masterpiece Cakeshop, in June 2018, the Supreme Court voted 7-2 in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples in the same way he sells to male couples- women. The Masterpiece decision did not say that a baker had the right to refuse to sell a cake to a same-sex couple citing his religious beliefs. He only said that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in ruling against the baker initially, showed “clear and unacceptable hostility to the baker’s sincere religious beliefs”.

The Washington Supreme Court re-examined the Arlene’s Flowers case and, in 2019, said it found that the courts that had deliberated on the matter “had not acted with religious animosity” when they ruled that the florist had violated a state law by refusing to sell flowers to a gay man. pair. Among other things, the court also noted that Stutzman had “recognized that selling flowers for an atheist or Muslim marriage would not be tantamount to endorsing these belief systems.”

The ADF appealed the case again to the United States Supreme Court and was again denied the review last July. This time around, however, three judges indicated that they would have taken the case. ADF then filed a lengthy request for a new hearing of the second rejected request for review. This rehearing request has been on the Supreme Court conference list since September, including – most recently – November 19. A request by both parties to dismiss the request for a rehearing was filed on November 18, indicating party to bear its own costs. “

Meanwhile, ADF has another similar appeal to the United States Supreme Court, 303 Creative v. Elenis, involving a Colorado web designer. The state’s response to this appeal is due to be submitted to the Supreme Court in early December. ADF has organized several similar lawsuits across the country, including the Masterpiece case and one in 2013 involving a wedding photographer, which the Supreme Court refused to consider.

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