Washington State Supreme Court rejects anti-gay florist's appeal

Barronelle Stutzman center a Richland Wash. florist who was fined for denying service to a gay couple in 2013 smiles as she is surrounded by supporters after a hearing before Washington’s Supreme Court Tuesday Nov. 15 2016 in Bellevue Wash. St

Now the owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, Washington, Stutzman was asked to provide the flowers for the same-sex wedding ceremony of one of her long-time customers, Rob Ingersoll.

Ingersoll and his partner sued under Washington nondiscrimination law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and the state attorney general asked Stutzman to stop discriminating against gay customers.

If the Supreme Court agrees to hear this case, it will be a test of whether the highest court in the land decides to reverse course on basic civil rights protections and privilege "religious freedom" over the freedoms of every other American citizen.

Ingersoll and Freed are backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, while Ferguson - who is also challenging President Trump's travel ban - filed his own suit against Stutzman under authority of enforcing state consumer protection laws.

He reminded the court that in the past, interracial marriages were refused because of religious sanctimony, but high courts ruled to strike down those laws as discriminatory.

Nor does the state anti-discrimination law violate Stutzman's "right to religious free exercise under the First Amendment, Article 1" of the U.S. Constitution, said the opinion, "because it is a neutral, generally applicable law that serve's our state government's compelling interest in eradicating discrimination in public accommodations". "The Washington Supreme Court was right to shut it down".

She is represented by ADF, the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal group that has represented others who assert religious objections to providing wedding services for gay and lesbian couples.

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The couple sued Stutzman, and a county superior court ruled in the couple's favor.

Ingersoll went to Arlene's Flowers, where he had been a customer for nine years. Several hundred people lined up outside to support Stutzman, a grandmother.

Ingersoll and Freed filed their own lawsuit against the defendants on April 18, which the trial court consolidated with the State's case on July 24.

But Stutzman, who had served the couple previously, turned him away that time, explaining in a deposition, "I just put my hands on his and told him because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, I couldn't do that, couldn't do his wedding".

Stutzman had argued that her First Amendment rights were being violated if she was forced to participate in a wedding to which she morally objects by providing flowers for the occasion.

"It has extra force, that's certainly the way we take it. our court speaking strongly with one voice", said Mike Scott, a lawyer with Hillis Clark Martin & Petersen, who handled the case pro bono for ACLU-Washington.

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