Religious Law

Washington's top court rules against Christian florist who wouldn't provide flowers for gay wedding

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A Christian florist did not have a First Amendment right to refuse to provide flowers for a gay wedding, the Washington Supreme Court has ruled.

The court on Thursday affirmed a fine and citation imposed against Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, for her violation of state laws barring discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. How Appealing linked to the decision (PDF); the New York Times and the Washington Post have stories.

Stutzman refused to provide the flowers because she had a religious belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Providing flowers, she maintained, is tantamount to endorsing marriage equality for same-sex couples. She also alleged that the sale of floral arrangements is expressive conduct that amounts to speech. She claimed violations of her federal and state constitutional rights to free speech.

The state supreme court found no constitutional violation. Stutzman’s floral arrangements are not expressive conduct eligible for constitutional protections, the court said. Nor does the law infringe her right to free exercise of religion, the court concluded.

Even if the law substantially burdens Stutzman’s free exercise of her religion, the court said, the law doesn’t violate the First Amendment because it is a neutral, generally applicable law that serves a compelling interest in eliminating discrimination in public accommodations.

The gay couple, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, had intended to marry on the ninth anniversary of their relationship. Ingersoll had been a customer of Stutzman’s for at least nine years when he stopped by her store to talk about flowers for the wedding. The couple lost enthusiasm for a large wedding after Stutzman turned them down, instead opting for a modest ceremony at their home in July 2013.

Stutzman is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which said it would seek Supreme Court review.

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