The Washington State Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in the case of the Christian florist being sued by the state for refusing to provide arrangements for a same-sex marriage ceremony more than three years ago.
Barronnelle Stutzman faces the possibility of losing her business, her home and her life savings unless the state supreme court overturns lower court rulings that Stutzman violated state discrimination laws.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a friend of the court brief leading up to Tuesday’s hearing. Legal Counsel Adele Keim says Stutzman is being targeted by the government for holding beliefs in conflict with a customer.
“We know that we live in a pluralistic society. If there’s anything that’s true about people in the United States, of America, it’s that we disagree about important issues, things like sex, things like religion. You name it and you can find two Americans with different views on it,” said Keim.
“The issue in Barronnelle’s case is that the power of the state is being used to punish her because she expressed her disagreement,” added Keim.
Keim says Stutzman’s career shows she does not discriminate against gays and lesbians or anyone else.
“Barronnelle Stutzman has employed LGBT people and served LGBT people, including the couple that has turned around and sued her, for two decades,” said Keim. “She served this couple for nine years. She made their Valentine’s Day arrangements for years.”
In 2013, Rob Ingersoll asked Stutzman to provide floral arrangement for his same-sex ceremony with Curt Freed. Keim says Stutzman was as loving as possible in denying the request.
“She took his hand and with tears in her eyes she said, ‘My faith doesn’t allow me to do that.’ She’s a Southern Baptist and participating in a same-sex wedding was just something she felt she couldn’t do,” said Keim.
She says Ingersoll is the one who turned this into an ordeal that eventually involved the state government targeting Stutzman.
“Instead of saying, “I understand. We’re going to go our separate ways,’ he started talking about it to the media. The state attorney general (Bob Ferguson) heard about it and made an issue out of it, even suing Barronnelle. The ACLU soon joined the lawsuit and Barronnelle now stands to lose not just her business but also her home and her life savings,” said Keim.
Prior court rulings have ordered Stutzman to pay Ingersoll’s legal fees. Keim estimates that total could run into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars after several rounds of the case in court, even though a previous court found that Ingersoll and Freed suffered eight dollars in damages.
Keim says Stutzman had the opportunity to settle the case for a smaller fine but refused.
“For Barronnelle, the issue has never been about money. The state offered to settle the case for a couple thousand dollars a couple of years ago. She said, ‘I can’t, because if I settle for that money, you’re going to require me to participate in same-sex weddings in the future and my faith just doesn’t allow that,'” said Keim.
Stutzman and her supporters are encouraged by the number of legal experts weighing in on her side.
“The National Latino Christian Leadership Caucus has joined her. African-American pastors have joined her and stood with her and said, ‘There are many, many thousands of Barronnelle’s out there,’ and have asked the court to protect her from the misuse of this law,” said Keim.
“So we’re hopeful that with this chorus of support for Barronnelle Stutzman, the Washington State Supreme Court will take another look and reconsider,” said Keim.