A Benton County Superior Court judge today ruled that a florist in Richland, WA violated the state’s anti-discrimination law when she denied service to a gay couple for their wedding. The ruling came in a lawsuit (Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers) filed by the ACLU on behalf of Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll. The court agreed with the suit’s contention that the refusal of Arlene’s Flowers to sell flowers to the couple violates the longstanding Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Consumer Protection Act.
“Religious freedom is a fundamental part of America. But religious beliefs do not give any of us a right to ignore the law or to harm others because of who they are. When gay people go to a business, they should be treated like anyone else and not be discriminated against,” said Sarah Dunne, ACLU of Washington Legal Director.
Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll have been a couple since 2004. In December 2012, soon after the State of Washington began recognizing the freedom to marry for gay couples, Curt proposed marriage to Robert, and the two became engaged. They were planning for a wedding to be held on their anniversary in September 2013. Having purchased goods from Arlene’s Flowers on many occasions, Robert on behalf of the couple approached the florist on March 1, 2013 to arrange for flowers for the event. However, he was told that the business would not sell the couple flowers because of the owner’s religious beliefs.
The couple was shocked and hurt by the florist’s refusal. Fearing further discrimination, they stopped planning for a big wedding and ultimately decided to have a small wedding at their home.
“After two years, we are very pleased to have the court confirm that we were discriminated against under the law. We were hurt and saddened when we were denied service by Arlene’s Flowers after doing business with them for so many years. We respect everyone’s beliefs, but businesses that are open to the public have an obligation to serve everyone. We appreciate the support we’ve gotten from people around the globe,” said Freed and Ingersoll.
The Washington Law Against Discrimination (RCW 49.60) prohibits discrimination because of sexual orientation. It bars businesses from refusing to sell goods, merchandise, and services to any person because of their sexual orientation.
In its ruling the court said, “Defendants’ refusal to ‘do the flowers’ for Ingersoll and Freed’s wedding based on her religious opposition to same sex marriage is, as a matter of law, a refusal based on Ingersoll and Freed’s sexual orientation in violation of the WLAD.”
In agreeing with the plaintiffs’ contentions, the court stated that, “No Court has ever held that religiously motivated conduct, expressive or otherwise, trumps state discrimination law in public accommodations. The Defendants have provided no legal authority why it should.”
Representing Ingersoll and Freed for the ACLU are cooperating attorneys Michael Scott, Amit Ranade, and Jake Ewart of Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson P.S., ACLU of WA staff attorneys Sarah Dunne and Margaret Chen, and ACLU LGBT Rights Project attorney Elizabeth Gill.
Photo by Julie Saraceno/Missy Moo Studio.