Christian Florist agrees to pay $5K to end lawsuit over refusal to serve gay wedding
Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers announces retirement
A Christian florist has agreed to pay $5,000 to end a years long legal battle centered on her refusal to provide floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding ceremony. She has also announced that she will retire so that her flower shop can be run by her employees.
Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, was sued by Rob Ingersoll, a man she had done business with in the past, because she refused to provide a floral arrangement for his same-sex wedding in 2013. Stutzman was represented by the conservative legal nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, while Ingersoll was represented by the progressive group the American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU argued that Stutzman’s refusal was a violation of state discrimination law. The florist suffered legal defeats in lower courts before her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected earlier this year.
A settlement has been reached in the legal case that allows Stutzman to avoid having to pay crippling fines and legal fees. As part of the agreement, Stutzman will pay the same-sex couple $5,000 while the ADF will, in return, withdraw a petition to the Supreme Court for reconsideration.
During a Zoom call organized by ADF Thursday afternoon, the 77-year-old great grandmother announced retirement and plans to sell Arlene’s Flowers to her employees. She also intends to support others dealing with religious liberty legal battles.
“I’ve never had to compromise my conscience or go against my faith. I’ve met so many, many kind and wonderful people, who’ve generously offered me their prayers and encouragement and support,” she stated in a statement posted online after the Zoom call.
“There is a great deal of division at work in our country today, but God has shown me again and again that His love is stronger than the anger and the pain so many are feeling. And He’s given me countless opportunities to share His love with others along the way.”
In 2013, Stutzman refused to make flowers for the wedding of Ingersoll and Curt Freed because of her belief that the Bible describes marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman. In response, Stutzman was sued by the same-sex couple, with a county court issuing a fine of $1,000 and deeming her liable for thousands of dollars in legal fees. Stutzman appealed the ruling, and the Washington Supreme Court ruled in February 2017 that she violated state antidiscrimination law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation when she refused to make the floral arrangement.
In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the ruling against Stutzman and sent the case back to the state supreme court for further consideration.
The Supreme Court cited its 7-2 ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The justices ruled that baker Jack Phillips was mistreated by the Colorado commission when he was punished for refusing to design a cake for a same-sex wedding in 2012. Same-sex marriage was not legal in Colorado at that time. However, Washington’s high court reaffirmed its earlier ruling against Stutzman in June 2019, stating that her conduct “constitutes sexual orientation discrimination.”
In July, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, with conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch believing the nation’s high court should have accepted the appeal.
“After Curt and I were turned away from our local flower shop, we cancelled the plans for our dream wedding because we were afraid it would happen again,” said Ingersoll in a July statement.
“We had a small ceremony at home instead. We hope this decision sends a message to other LGBTQ people that no one should have to experience the hurt that we did.”
ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner said that the settlement should not be seen as a “surrender of Barronelle’s beliefs.”
“Over the last eight years, Barronelle stood for the First Amendment freedoms of all Americans, even those who disagree with her about a deeply personal and important issue like marriage,” Waggoner said. “And in so doing, she’s inspired millions of others in their own public and personal battles to live their faith without government interference.”
Waggoner further stated that Stutzman “laid the groundwork” for the Supreme Court to take on similar religious freedom cases.
Stutzman specifically mentioned her support for Christian web designer Lorie Smith and her company, 303 Creative. Smith pushed back on a Colorado law that she felt would require her to make services available to gay couples seeking help in creating wedding websites although same-sex weddings contradict the teachings of her faith.
This summer, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled against Smith. Smith has appealed her case to the Supreme Court for consideration.
“The Supreme Court needs to affirm the right of all Americans to speak and live consistent with their conscience,” Waggoner argued.