A florist who refused to provide flowers for a longtime customer who was marrying his male partner has agreed to settle her case by paying the couple $5,000, following a series of court rulings against her.
On Thursday, Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, withdrew a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rehear her case after the nation’s highest court previously declined to take up the case in July.
As part of the settlement, Stutzman agreed to pay $5,000 to the couple Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed. The couple have since said they’ll donate the full amount of the settlement to a local chapter of PFLAG, an LGBTQ advocacy group, and will personally match the donation using their own funds, according to their lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union.
In a statement, Stutzman’s lawyers with the anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom trumpeted the settlement as a victory of sorts, claiming in a press release that the settlement allows their client to end the lawsuit “without forcing her to act against her religious beliefs or to pay potentially ruinous attorneys’ fees.”
Stutzman, who has since decided to retire and will be handing the shop over to her employees, said she was never forced to “compromise my conscience, or go against my faith,” and hopes that other social conservatives will continue the fight for religious freedom in her stead.
“At one point, those aligned against me suggested that I could keep my shop if I paid a fine and promised to create custom designs for same-sex ceremonies in the future. I refused because I could not betray my conscience,” she said in a statement.
“I also worried about what kind of precedent my ‘paying up’ would set for others facing similar circumstances. But I am willing to turn the legal struggle for freedom over to others.”
Stutzman continued: “So, I’ve paid $5,000 to Rob [Ingersoll] and am passing my legal torch on to other artists — like Lorie Smith of 303 Creative in Colorado, whose case may well be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this term — and thanking God for the victories He’s so graciously given me.”
She added that she wishes Ingersoll “the very best.”
The case dates back to 2013, when Ingersoll and Freed sued after Stutzman refused to provide them flowers for their wedding. In their lawsuit, they argued that Stutzman’s denial of service violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination, which is supposed to prohibit discrimination in public accommodations against people based on any number of characteristics, including sexual orientation.
But Stutzman claimed that providing flowers for a same-sex wedding would her Southern Baptist beliefs and her “relationship with Jesus Christ.” She also argued that her floral arrangements were “works of art” and being forced to provide them for a wedding that her religious beliefs do not condone would be a violation of her First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
A similar argument was employed by Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, in a 2018 Supreme Court case after he refused to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding.
But Stutzman had much less luck than Phillips. After she refused to admit wrongdoing and settle the case for $2,000, a lower court ultimately ruled against Stutzman in 2015, finding she had broken the Law Against Discrimination.
She appealed the case to the Washington State Supreme Court, which unanimously upheld the lower court’s decision and opined that providing equal service to all customers did not violate her constitutional rights.
Stutzman and her lawyers then appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which remanded the case back to the Washington State Supreme Court for reconsideration, just in case the decision might have been clouded by anti-religious bias — as the high court claimed occurred when Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission ruled against Phillips Masterpiece Cakeshop case.
But in 2019, the Washington State Supreme Court stood by its earlier decision, finding no evidence of animus towards Stutzman and opining that selling flowers for a wedding “does not inherently express a message about that wedding.”
Stutzman then appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case, thereby allowing the lower court decisions to stand.
Ingersoll and Freed issued a statement expressing satisfaction with the settlement.
“We took on this case because we were worried about the harm being turned away would cause LGBTQ people,” they said in a statement.
“We are glad the Washington Supreme Court rulings will stay in place to ensure that same-sex couples are protected from discrimination and should be served by businesses like anyone else. It was painful to be turned away and we are thankful that this long journey for us is finally over.”
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