Businesses don’t have the right to discriminate on the basis of race, religion and sexual orientation when offering services to the public, said an attorney for the ACLU representing a same-sex couple in a case against a Richland flower shop.
And Barronelle Stutzman refused to provide flowers and services to Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed in March 2013 because they’re gay and wanted flowers for their wedding, attorney Michael Scott said during a hearing Friday in Benton County Superior Court.
Stutzman and her Arlene’s Flowers are being sued by the couple and the state Attorney General’s Office. Attorneys for the state and couple asked a judge Friday to rule in their favor without need for a trial, saying relevant facts aren’t in dispute.
Stutzman’s attorneys said she declined her services not because of the couple’s sexual orientation, but because of her religious views on marriage. And she has a right to free speech and exercise of religion, they said.
Judge Alex Ekstrom made no decision Friday after the three-hour hearing.
During the hearing, Scott argued, “Our tradition and our laws require businesses to serve the public without discriminating....” He added that “the core purpose of these laws is to preserve and protect the essential human dignity of all members of our diverse society.”
“No case — not a single case — has been cited to this court in which a business has been excused from the reach of public accommodations law on the basis of an asserted religious belief or the right to free speech,” he said. “No one has the right to unjustly discriminate in operating a place of public accommodation.”
But Stutzman — who believed Ingersoll was asking her to provide full wedding support, which would have included tasks such as creating floral arrangements, greeting guests and supporting the wedding party — declined because of her religious beliefs about marriage, said Kristen Waggoner, one of her attorneys.
“The focus is not on what Mr. Ingersoll said (at the flower shop). It’s not on what Mr. Ingersoll meant. It’s on what Barronelle understood and what motivated her to act. There’s no way that what motivated her to act was the fact that he was gay, because she’d lovingly served him — and even talked (with him) about his relationship with Mr. Freed — for nine years. ...They had a warm and friendly relationship,” Waggoner said.
Stutzman “tried to have the conversation in the most respectful, kind way possible. But there is another competing interest that this court needs to consider, and it also impacts human dignity and liberty. And that is the enumerated rights of free speech and free exercise — the right not to be coerced into expression that violates religious conviction,” Waggoner argued.
Stutzman’s attorneys also brought their own motion for a summary judgment. Attorneys for the state and couple arguing against it. Ekstrom also didn’t rule on that issue yet.
Ingersoll and Freed were in court Friday, and so was Stutzman.
The courtroom was packed. Many of Stutzman's supporters wore or carried flowers and gathered outside the justice center in Kennewick, some carrying signs with messages like, “Stop persecuting Arlene’s.” Waggoner said, “I know it blessed her to have them here.”
In a statement, Ingersoll and Freed said, “We appreciate the support from people across the globe,” and look forward to resolution. “We respect everyone’s beliefs, but businesses that are open to the public have an obligation to serve everyone,” they said.
Friday’s hearing came two weeks after another hearing in the case. In that hearing, attorneys argued some other motions, including one from Stutzman’s attorneys arguing that claims against her in her personal capacity should be dropped.
Ekstrom has yet to rule on those motions.
At this time, trial is set for next year.