Florist Attorney Wants Discrimination Case Moved To Federal Court

Apr 11, 2013

The lawyer for a Richland, Wash., florist being sued for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding says he hopes to move the lawsuit to federal court as a First Amendment case.

Attorney Justin D. Bristol says the case is about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, not discrimination.

"People understand that under the First Amendment, the government cannot compel any of us to engage in any sort of religious conduct," Bristol says. "But what about when the government is attempting to compel people to engage in conduct that is contrary to their religious beliefs. That too would then be protected under the first amendment. The government is not allowed to do that."

Bristol represents Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers. He says Stutzman does not discriminate against gays and lesbians but does have a religious objection to same-sex marriage.  

But Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson says Stutzman violated consumer protection law by refusing to provide flowers for customer Robert Ingersoll. 

"My job is to enforce our state laws and our attorneys believe strongly that she’s in violation of our state laws," Ferguson says. "You simply can’t discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation. That’s no allowed under our laws. I hear her arguments, but I believe a court will ultimately decide that those will not be sustained, and the state position will be sustained.  

The ACLU of Washington says it’s representing customer Ingersoll and his partner. The group is asking that the shop to agree not to refuse service to customers based on sexual orientation. It also wants the florist to write a letter of apology to be published in the Tri-City Herald.  

Copyright 2013 KUOW