Supreme Court grants appeal in Arlene's Flowers case, erasing ru - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Supreme Court grants appeal in Arlene's Flowers case, erasing ruling

Posted: Updated:

6-25-18 UPDATE:

RICHLAND, WA - Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the case of a Richland florist who refused to provide flowers for a gay wedding back to the Washington State Supreme Court.

"You know, if the State of Washington has its way, I'm at risk of losing everything, not just the flower shop, which is my livelihood but my home and every penny we own," said Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers.

In granting the appeal of Stutzman, the Supreme Court erased a lower court ruling against her. But in granting that appeal, the case heads back to Washington State.

After refusing to provide flowers for their 2013 wedding, the couple and the State of Washington both sued Stutzman for discrimination.

Under Washington law, while a business isn't required to provide a particular service, if it chooses to do so for couples of the opposite sex, it must provide that service equally to couples of the same sex.

During a news conference today, Stutzman says winning this appeal is about more than just her own livelihood.

"Rob [sic] has the freedom to act on his beliefs about marriage... I am only asking for that same freedom," Stutzman said. "This just isn't about my freedom; it's about everyone's freedom. If the government can tell you what event you must celebrate or take away all you own if you decline to violate your faith, then we don't live in a free America. Wherever you stand on the issue of marriage, we can all agree to stand for our freedoms."

Today's ruling sends the case back to the Washington State courts for "further consideration" in light of a recent ruling for a Colorado baker who argued making a cake for a same-sex couple would violate his religious beliefs.

Here's a timeline of what led up today's decision to bring the case back to Washington:

The owner of Arlene's Flowers and Gifts refused to provide flowers for the 2013 wedding of two men. The couple and Washington State then sued Barronelle Stutzman. 

In January of 2015, the judge ruled that she had violated the state's anti-discrimination law in both cases. Immediately after, Stutzman stated she would appeal the ruling.

In March 2015, the judge ordered Stutzman to pay a $1,000 fine plus $1 for court costs and fees.

In November of 2016, State Attorney General Bob Ferguson argued the case before the Washington Supreme Court. In February of 2017, the State Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Stutzman, holding that her floral arrangements do not constitute protected free speech, and that providing flowers to a same-sex wedding would not serve as an endorsement of same-sex marriage. Stutzman then filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now with the decision to send the case back to the Washington State courts, this case is far from over.

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6-25-18 UPDATE:

OLYMPIA, WA - Governor Jay Inslee gave the following statement regarding the Supreme Court's decision to grant the appeal of a Richland florist who was fined for refusing to sell flowers to a gay couple.

"Washington will remain a place where members of the LGBTQ community can live, work and raise families without fear of discrimination. 

"Today’s decision, asking our Court to reconsider the Arlene Flowers ruling in light of the US Supreme Court’s recent holding in the Colorado case, does not surprise us or cause us any concern. Unlike the recent decision in the Colorado case, in Washington there was never any indication of religious bias or hostility in our pursuit to protect consumers from discrimination. I have full confidence that the state will prevail once again."

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6-25-18 ORIGINAL STORY:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court Monday granted the appeal of a Richland florist who was fined after she refused to sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding, and the court erased a lower court ruling against her.

The move came after the court gave a narrow victory on June 4 to a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding. That decision affected only him and offered no guidance on how to referee similar disputes between same-sex couples and business owners who cite religious objections in refusing to serve them.

Monday's action sends the florist's case back to the Washington state courts "for further consideration in light" of the decision in the baker case, which offered little guidance on how to balance gay rights and religious freedom.

Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers and Gifts in Richland, Washington, refused to provide flowers in 2013 for the wedding of two longtime customers, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, explaining that as a Southern Baptist, it would violate her religious beliefs and her "relationship with Jesus Christ."

Like Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker, she said her floral arrangements were works of art and that having to create them for a same-sex wedding would violate her freedom of expression. Her lawyer, Kristen Waggoner of the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, called her "an artist with a conscience who cannot separate her artistic creativity from her soul."

The same legal group also represented Phillips in his case before the Supreme Court.

Both Washington and the couple sued, and state courts ruled that she violated laws forbidding businesses to discriminate on the basis of several factors including sexual orientation. The state supreme court said providing or refusing to provide flowers for a wedding "does not inherently express a message about that wedding." It noted that Stutzman said furnishing flowers for a Muslim or atheist wedding wouldn't necessarily constitute an endorsement of Islam or atheists.

Washington's attorney general, Robert Ferguson, said Stutzman was seeking a rule "that would allow every tattoo parlor, print shop, hair salon, photography studio, bakery, law firm, or other business whose work involves a degree of 'expression' to discriminate against customers."

The issue will very likely come back to the Supreme Court in the coming months. 

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Previous Coverage:

OLYMPIA, WA - Finally, a decision has been made today in a case we've been following for years. It went all the way to the state Supreme Court, who unanimously decided a Richland florist violated Washington's anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws.

Barronelle Stutzman had refused to provide the flowers for the wedding of Curt Freed and Rob Ingersoll. It's an interesting case that gained national attention because it can possibly influence other legal cases regarding religious and civil rights around the country.

Stutzman, the owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, lost her case this morning.

"It was terrifying when you think that the government is coming in and telling you what what to think and what to do and what to create," said Stutzman. "We should all be very, very scared."

"It is the complete, unequivocal victory for equality in the state of Washington and sends a clear message around the country as well about the importance of equality," said Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Those were the immediate reactions from both sides on today's supreme court ruling. It all started in 2013, when Stutzman refused to provide the flowers for a long-time customer's same-sex wedding. She told Robert Ingersoll it's against her religious beliefs.

"I knew Rob was gay for all of those years and it made no difference to me," said Stutzman. "I chose not to participate in one event and that's what this is all about."

The state offered Stutzman a settlement, but she declined, which is why the state Supreme Court made its ruling today.

"Well the fine from the Attorney General went down to $1,000," said Stutzman. "The ACLU attorney fees could be well over a million dollars and my freedom isn't for sale."

Stutzman's attorney argued that no creative artist should have to take on every event and create custom expressions against their convictions.

However, the AG and the couple's attorney say it's illegal in Washington for a business to refuse service based on gender, religion, race or sexuality.

"If this case were about an interracial couple, we wouldn't be here today," said Michael Scott, attorney representing Freed and Ingersoll. "Nobody would question the right of an interracial couple to be served flowers. And that same right applies to our state and many other states to gay couples."

Stutzman's attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom said they plan on appealing this case and taking it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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