Kennewick council votes down resolution supporting Arlene’s Flowers

Barronelle Stutzman, wearing black, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, speaks with supporters after a Kennewick City Council meeting.
Barronelle Stutzman, wearing black, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, speaks with supporters after a Kennewick City Council meeting. Tri-City Herald

The Kennewick City Council voted down a proposed resolution Tuesday night that would have asked the state attorney general to drop his lawsuit against Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers and the Legislature to take action.

Only Councilman John Trumbo — who proposed the resolution — voted in favor of it. The “Resolution affirming Freedom of Conscience” is based on one drafted by Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington.

A Benton County Superior Court judge ruled earlier this year that Stutzman broke the law when she told longtime customer Robert Ingersoll in March 2013 that she couldn’t provide services for his wedding to partner Curt Freed because of her religious beliefs.

The resolution would have asked the Legislature “to take appropriate steps to ensure that Washington’s business climate never requires someone to choose between their job and their conscience.”

Mayor Steve Young told a crowd of about 70 attending the council meeting, including Stutzman, that the issue had become personal. He’d been told if he did not support the resolution he was not a Christian.

“Nobody is going to tell me I am not a Christian,” he said.

Councilman Don Britain said the council’s job is to set policy, approve budgets and hire and fire the city manager. People should not get on the council to promote a personal agenda, he said.

Councilman Bob Olson said personally he could support the resolution, but could not support it on behalf of the city.

Councilman Greg Jones said he is required to uphold the law and if people want the law changed, they should do that through the Legislature or Congress.

Councilman Paul Parish said his oath of office required him to uphold the laws of the state and the nation, and the law at issue has been ruled on by higher courts.

Councilman Bob Parks said he could see both sides of the issue, including that the issue has nothing to do with Kennewick, but voted against it. Arlene’s Flowers is in Richland.

Trumbo believes a sizable percent of the population of Kennewick supports the initiative, based on their 2012 vote on Referendum 74, he said. One speaker at the meeting said about two-thirds of Kennewick residents voting in 2012 opposed allowing same-sex marriage.

The resolution is not a license for discrimination, Trumbo said. Residents are allowed to exercise freedom of conscience in other issues, such as having their children opt out of certain curriculum in schools.

Ten people spoke in favor of the resolution and seven spoke in opposition.

Nissa Flanagan said as a business owner she lives in fear of saying no to a wedding, but has to stand before God on the decision she makes. “I want you to give me the right to say no,” she said.

State Rep. Brad Klippert said the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, covering freedom of religion, trumps the state consumer protection law.

On the other side of the issue, Fernando Aguilar described being 6 years old and waiting with his father for more than two hours because the barber would not cut his father’s hair until all the lighter-skinned people who came into the shop after him had been served. Shop owners should not be allowed to decide they will not serve someone because of something the customer has no control over, including the color of their skin or who they love, he said.

The Rev. Jane Schmoetzer of All Saints Episcopal Church in Richland said the same arguments being made now were the arguments used 50 years ago regarding interracial marriage.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews