Tag Archives: florist

Washington Supreme Court: Florist broke the law by denying service to gay couple

The Washington Supreme Court ruled Feb.16 that a florist in Richland violated a state anti-discrimination law when she denied service to a same-sex couple planning to marry.

Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll were refused service by Arlene’s Flowers because they are gay.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Washington are representing Freed and Ingersoll in their lawsuit against the florist for violating their rights.

The suit, Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers, was heard jointly with the consumer protection lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers brought by the state of Washington.

“We’re thrilled that the Washington Supreme Court has ruled in our favor. The court affirmed that we are on the right side of law and the right side of history,” said Freed and Ingersoll. “We felt it was so important that we stand up against discrimination because we don’t want what happened to us to happen to anyone else. We are so glad that we stood up for our rights.”

Freed and Ingersoll have been a couple since 2004. In December 2012, Freed proposed marriage to Ingersoll and the two became engaged.

They were planning for a wedding to be held on their anniversary in September 2013.

Having purchased goods from Arlene’s Flowers on other occasions, Ingersoll  approached the florist to arrange for flowers for the wedding. He was told the business would not sell the couple flowers because of the owner’s religious beliefs.

The Washington Law Against Discrimination guarantees the right to be free from discrimination in public accommodations based on race, creed, national origin, sex, and sexual orientation, among other characteristics. Thus, it prohibits businesses that are open to the general public from refusing to sell goods, merchandise and services because of a person’s sexual orientation.

“Religious freedom is a fundamental part of America,” said Elizabeth Gill, staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT Project. “But religious beliefs do not give any of us a right to ignore the law or to harm others because of who they are. When people experience acts of discrimination, they feel that they are not full and equal members of our society, and we’re delighted that the Washington Supreme Court has recognized this.”

The state supreme court’s decision upheld a 2015 ruling by Benton County Superior Court that the refusal of Arlene’s Flowers to sell flowers to the couple violated the longstanding Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Consumer Protection Act.

“Freedom of religion is fundamental to American society, that’s why it is firmly protected by the U.S. Constitution. People should also never use their personal religious beliefs as a free pass to violate the law or the basic civil rights of others,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. “Businesses who are open to the public should be open to everyone on the same terms. We congratulate the ACLU on their important victory in this case upholding fairness and equality under the law.”

Ingersoll and Freed are represented by ACLU cooperating attorneys Michael Scott, Amit Ranade and Jake Ewart of Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson P.S., ACLU of Washington Staff Attorney Margaret Chen, and ACLU LGBT and HIV Project Staff Attorney Elizabeth Gill.

Did you know

Washington is one of 19 states that provide protections against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.

Judge rules against florist who refused gays’ business

A judge has decided the state of Washington has the authority to bring a consumer protection lawsuit against a florist who refused to provide flowers for a gay wedding.

Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom also ruled recently that the owner of the Richland, Washington, flower shop can be held personally liable for violating the Consumer Protection Act.

Barronelle Stutzman and her shop, Arlene’s Flowers, are being sued for refusing to sell flowers for a 2013 same-sex wedding.

The judge still has two more motions to rule on in the lawsuit, including whether the facts case show the florist violated the Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination.

The state attorney general is asking for a permanent injunction requiring Stutzman and her shop to comply with the consumer protection law.

Fighting faith-based discrimination

When Robert Ingersoll asked Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland, Wash., to provide the flowers for his September wedding with Curt Freed, the florist gave him a no and a hug.

Stutzman has told the media she took Ingersoll’s hand and told him, “I am sorry. I can’t do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, one of the arguments against integration and outlawing racial discrimination was that such legislation violated religious freedoms of business owners who claimed God purposely separated the races. There were echoes of this argument as lawmakers raised faith-based objections to marriage equality bills that passed this year in Minnesota, Rhode Island and Delaware.

The equality bills that passed contain provisions allowing religious institutions to refuse to recognize or celebrate same-sex marriages but do not exempt businesses from complying with nondiscrimination laws.

Despite reports of sizable economic gains in marriage equality states, not all businesses are eager to serve gay grooms or lesbian brides. 

The American Civil Liberties Union says individuals and institutions, with increasing frequency, are refusing to provide services to LGBT people and women based on religious objections. The ACLU has dealt with:

• Faith-based schools firing unmarried women who become pregnant.

• Business owners refusing to provide insurance coverage for contraception.

• Graduate students refusing to counsel gays.

• Pharmacies turning away female customers seeking to fill birth control prescriptions.

• Bridal salons, photographers, reception halls, inns and florists closing doors to same-sex couples planning their weddings.

But discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited in the District of Columbia and 21 states, including all of the jurisdictions where same-sex couples can marry or enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships.

In the courts

Washington residents Freed and Ingersoll met while hiking in Yakima in September 2004. After becoming a couple, they relied on Arlene’s to mark life’s special occasions – birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Days. 

When they began planning a wedding for this September, they didn’t even consider going to another florist.

But their florist told them to go somewhere else.

Stutzman has said she doesn’t have a problem with gay employees or gay customers, unless they want flowers for their wedding.

The gay couple, represented by the ACLU of Washington, has sued, and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Arlene’s.

“As attorney general, it is my job to enforce the laws of the state of Washington,” Ferguson said. “Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation. If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service.”

Stutzman has countersued, with representation from the Alliance Defending Freedom, which says the state is trying to force the florist to act contrary to her faith.

“Everyone knows that plenty of florists are willing to assist in same-sex ceremonies, so the state has no legal reason to force Barronelle to violate her deeply held beliefs,” said ADF legal counsel Dale Schowengerdt. “In America, the government is supposed to protect freedom, not use its intolerance for certain viewpoints to intimidate citizens into acting contrary to their faith convictions. Family business owners are constitutionally guaranteed the freedom to live and work according to their beliefs.”

ADF also filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing against overturning Proposition 8. In that brief, the ADF said compelling business owners to serve same-sex couples was involuntary servitude.

After the filing of lawsuits in the Arlene’s case, several Washington state Republicans introduced Senate Bill 5927 – now in committee limbo – to give business owners “the right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief, philosophical belief or matter of conscience.”

The Seattle Human Rights Commission said the bill is “a poorly disguised tactic to allow individuals to discriminate against members of our LGBT community.”

Another closely watched case is pending in Colorado, where a gay couple, also represented by the ACLU, is suing the Masterpiece Cakeshop. The bakery refused to sell a wedding cake to David Mullins and Charlie Craig, who married in Massachusetts.

“Religious freedom is a fundamental right in America and it’s something that we champion at the ACLU,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the state chapter. “We are all entitled to our religious beliefs and we fight for that. But someone’s personal beliefs don’t justify breaking the law by discriminating against others in the public sphere.”

The Colorado Attorney General’s office also has filed a complaint against the bakery, with a hearing before the state civil rights commission expected next month.

The bakery’s attorney, Nicolle Martin, told The Associated Press that the case is about conscience, not commerce.

Conscience, as well as artistic expression, also are cited by the defense for Elane Photography, a New Mexico business that refused to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony because its owners are Christians.

In that case, a district court and an appeals court have found that Elane Photography is a public accommodation and thus cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation and that enforcing the state human rights act doesn’t violate Elane Photography’s First Amendment rights.

Both courts also rejected Elane Photography’s argument that the court wouldn’t force an African-American photographer to shoot a Ku Klux Klan rally so it shouldn’t require a Christian to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony. The district court said, “Once one offers a service publicly, they must do so without impermissible exception. Therefore, (Elane Photography) could refuse to photograph animals or even small children, just as an architect could design only commercial buildings and not private residences.”

“What Elane Photography’s hypothetical fails to address is the fact that, like animals, small children, and private residences, the Ku Klux Klan is not a protected class. Sexual orientation, however, is protected,” added the appeals court in the case, which is now with the New Mexico Supreme Court.

CONSCIENCE OR COMMERCE

A recent poll from the conservative-leaning Rasmussen Reports found 85 percent of American adults think a Christian business such as Arlene’s or Elane Photography should be able to refuse service to a same-sex couple getting married. Majorities in the poll also said business owners should be able to set their own rules for customers – appropriate attire for a restaurant, drinking ages in a bar, age limits for a housing community and discounts based on gender.

But other polls find growing support for requiring equal treatment for gays and same-sex couples in the marketplace.

A recent survey by the First Amendment Center found that 52 percent of Americans think businesses providing wedding services to the public must provide those services to same-sex couples, even if the owner has religious objections to same-sex marriage.

Support for nondiscrimination was highest among people under 30 and liberals and lowest among conservatives. But the survey found that 61 percent of Catholics and 39 percent of Protestants think businesses should treat same-sex couples the same as other couples.

Another poll, released on Aug. 1 by Third Way and the Human Rights Campaign, found that 56 percent of Americans think it is illegal for business owners in their state to refuse service to a gay person; 30 percent of those people are wrong because they live in states that lack a law banning bias based on sexual orientation.

The HRC survey, conducted in June, also found that 69 percent of Americans think businesses should not be able to refuse service to gay couples and 57 percent think a business providing flowers, cakes or photography for same-sex weddings are fulfilling contracts, not endorsing gay marriage.

Washington florist faces trial for refusing gay wedding job

The trial of a Richland, Wash., florist who refused to provide flowers for a gay wedding is still on track.

The Tri-City Herald reports a Benton County, Wash., judge struck down pretrial motions this week from both sides.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is suing the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, Barronelle Stutzman, for what the state says is a violation of the Consumer Protection Act. That lawsuit seeks a court order barring her from discriminating.

A trial date has not yet been set.

Stutzman told a long-time customer last March she would not provide flowers for a same-sex marriage because it was against her religious beliefs.

Stutzman also is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union. And a group called the Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Stutzman.

In full bloom | For native Milwaukee floral designer Michael Gaffney, life is just a bed of roses

Michael Gaffney’s friends thought he was a little crazy when he wanted to stay in New York after visiting the city for only a few days. Gaffney was on a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee field trip at the time. He got off the bus with his fellow UWM students, but he never got back on.

“I had a duffle bag, $200 in my pocket and I didn’t know a soul,” says Gaffney, a West Allis native. “I thought I had landed in Oz.”

The year was 1980. Gaffney has gone on to make a big name for himself in the world of floral arrangement. Today he’s considered one of the country’s pre-eminent floral designers and teachers. His New York School of Floral Design at 131 W. 28th St. is one of eight schools that he runs nationwide. 

Gaffney has appeared on national television, including “The Today Show,” to demonstrate his celebrated skills. His designs were featured in the film “The Black Swan,” and he’s one of the authors of “Design Star: Lessons from the New York School of Flower Design.” 

Gaffney will soon begin a regular column on design and wedding planning for The Huffington Post. In July, he’s providing $8,000 in floral arrangements and bouquets for a Midtown wedding in a Fifth Avenue penthouse across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The blushing bride, he says, is a “Milwaukee girl.”

But Gaffney’s initial move to Oz was hardly a stroll through Central Park. He landed in the cubicle of a Wall Street commodities broker where he made daily calls to banks around the country, prodding them to wire money to cover their daily trades. He quickly found that even Oz has its share of drudgery.

After a few years, he returned to Milwaukee intent on finishing college at UWM, a process he’d begun in 1976. The plan was to obtain a degree in finance, then return to the Big Apple to continue his Wall Street career. But fate intervened.

As a part time job, Gaffney drove a delivery van for Baumgarten Krueger, one of Milwaukee’s premier florists. When he went to turn in his keys the day before leaving for New York, his employer presented him with a request that changed his course in life.

“They said, ‘OK, but help us with this floral design first,’” Gaffney says. “I said, “I’m not a floral designer,’ and they said, “You are now.’”

It only took a short time for Gaffney to realize how prescient the florist’s comment was. He stayed one extra day, then another six days. In the short space of that time, he became hooked on the career that has occupied him for the past 23 years.

“I realized that flower arranging was something that had a craft aspect, a learned technique and patterns,” Gaffney says. “It was something I could do and I didn’t have to be the most artistic person because it’s all technique.”

In fact, the majority of successful floral designs are based on one of 24 repetitive design patterns that occur again and again, no matter what the flowers, the design or the occasion, Gaffney says. Master those patterns and instant design expertise follows.

“There is very little creativity involved in our jobs,” Gaffney says. “Anyone can do this. That’s why my students never fail.”

The schools, which began in Milwaukee in 2003, grew out of repeated requests by garden clubs and other groups for lessons in floral design. His very first class, boosted by a full-page advance article in a local newspaper, was an immediate success.

“I had a sold-out crowd,” he says. “My only problem was that I didn’t have enough chairs. My friend said that was a nice problem to have.”

Schools were added in different cities at the rate of one per year. Gaffney’s biggest surprise was the kind of students who crowded his classes.

“I thought I was going to have groups of bored housewives wanting to make floral arrangements for dinner parties,” he says. “But I routinely got professionals who were tired of their jobs and said, ‘Now it’s time to do something I really want to do.’”

Gaffney, whose home base is his school at 1718 N. First St., travels regularly to teach at each of his schools, including locations in Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and Miami, as well as New York and Milwaukee. In June, he’ll appear at two different Hallmark Home & Garden Shows in L.A. to share the tricks of his trade.

Gaffney gets a thrill out of watching his students’ careers blossom. “My mother was a teacher and I have developed a real appreciation for it through what I do,” he says. “Teaching is an art form, a skill, a delicate walk in the park and a balancing act.”

Florist refuses flowers for same-sex wedding, makes free speech case

The lawyer for a Richland, Wash., florist sued for refusing to provide flowers for a gay marriage hopes to move the state lawsuit to federal court as a free speech case.

“What the state is saying is you are compelled to express assent on an issue that you don’t agree with, and that violates the First Amendment,” said attorney Justin D. Bristol, of Snohomish.

It’s not about discrimination, he said.

Bristol represents Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers. In March, Stutzman refused to provide flowers for the wedding of two long-time customers, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, of Kennewick, because of her religious objection to gay marriage.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced a consumer protection lawsuit earlier this week against Stutzman for refusing the flower arrangements. It’s unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation.

“If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service,” Ferguson said in a statement.

In the complaint filed on April 9 in Benton County Superior Court, the attorney general’s office seeks a court order requiring Arlene’s Flowers to comply with consumer protection law. The state also seeks a $2,000 fine.

Ferguson was elected in November’s election when Washington voters also passed a referendum affirming legal rights for same-sex marriage.

A person who answered the phone at Arlene’s on April 10 said Stutzman isn’t talking about the case. Bristol said Stutzman doesn’t discriminate against gays and has served them as customers and hired them as employees.

“It’s not a public accommodation case,” he said. “She simply doesn’t believe in gay marriage. She believes marriage should be between a man and a woman.”

It’s a religious issue and also one of expression, Bristol said.

Most free speech cases involve the government trying to prevent speech or expression, but in this case the government is trying to force Stutzman to express herself through flower-arranging in support of something she doesn’t believe in, Bristol said.

“Can the state require a painter to paint a portrait of a gay couple? Could the state require a musician to write a song?” Bristol asked. “Can the government compel them to say something they don’t want to say? It violates the First Amendment.”