Victory: WA Supreme Court rules in favor of gay couple in discrimination case

News Release: 
Thursday, February 16, 2017
The Washington Supreme Court today unanimously found that a Richland florist violated the state’s anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws when she refused to sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding.  Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll were refused service by Arlene’s Flowers because they are gay. The ACLU-WA is representing Freed and Ingersoll in their lawsuit (Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers) against the florist for violating their rights. The suit was heard jointly with the consumer protection lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers brought by the State of Washington.

“We’re thrilled that the Washington Supreme Court has ruled in our favor.  The Court affirmed that we are on the right side of the law and the right side of history. We felt it was so important that we stand up against discrimination because we don’t want what happened to us to happen to anyone else. We are so glad that we stood up for our rights,” said Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll.
“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 people gay or straight, black, brown, or white go to a business, they should be treated equally and not be discriminated against. When people experience acts of discrimination, they feel that they are not full and equal members of our society,” said Kathleen Taylor, ACLU of Washington Executive Director.
In its ruling the Court said, “We agree 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.’ ... As every other court to address the question has concluded, public accommodations laws do not simply guarantee access to goods or services. Instead, they serve a broader societal purpose: eradicating barriers to the equal treatment of all citizens in the commercial marketplace. Were we to carve out a patchwork of exceptions for ostensibly justified discrimination, that purpose would be fatally undermined.”
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.
Fearing further discrimination, they stopped planning for a big wedding and ultimately decided to have a small wedding at their home.
“We were very disappointed to be denied service by Arlene’s Flowers after doing business with them for so many years. Planning our wedding should have been a joyful time in our lives, but instead we were hurt and saddened by being rejected for who we are,” said Freed and Ingersoll. 
“We respect everyone’s beliefs, but businesses that are open to the public have an obligation to serve everyone. We brought this lawsuit because we don’t want other couples to go through the experience that we did. We appreciate the support we have received from people across the globe.”
The Washington Law Against Discrimination (the WLAD, ch. 49.60 RCW) guarantees the right to be free from discrimination in public accommodations based on race, creed, national origin, sex, and sexual orientation, among other characteristics. Thus, it prohibits businesses that are open to the general public from refusing to sell goods, merchandise, and services because of a person’s sexual orientation.
Today’s decision upheld a 2015 ruling by Benton County Superior Court that the refusal of Arlene’s Flowers to sell flowers to the couple violated the longstanding Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Consumer Protection Act. The florist appealed the ruling directly to the state Supreme Court. Civil rights groups, LGBT groups, large and small businesses, faith groups, and bar associations submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the couple.
A group of businesses and business associations said in their amicus brief, “The owners of Arlene’s Flowers are free to think, to say, and to believe as they wish.  But they have chosen to participate in the state’s economy by offering goods and services to the public.  Amici are interested in making sure that WLAD is enforced broadly to ensure that the state’s economy is as strong and vibrant as it can be, a goal that is maximized when the marketplace is free of discrimination.” 
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 attorney Margaret Chen, and ACLU LGBT and HIV Project staff attorney Elizabeth Gill.
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