Speed Reads

Same-sex marriage

Gay couple in Washington state wins legal battle against florist who cited religion to refuse doing their wedding

On Thursday, the nine-member Washington state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a florist in Richland had violated the state's anti-discrimination and consumer-protection laws when she refused to provide the flowers for a gay couple's 2013 wedding, citing her religious belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. The florist, Barronelle Stutzman, can stop selling flowers to any wedding or sell to all weddings, but not discriminate on sexual orientation, the court ruled.

Stutzman, the owner of Arlene's Flowers, had sold flowers to Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, whom she knew were a gay couple, for years. But she drew a line at doing the flowers for their wedding. The couple sued, backed by the state attorney general and the ACLU, and won in lower court. Stutzman's lawyer, Kristen Waggoner, said they will appeal the closely watched case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sturtzman had argued that forcing her to cater to a same-sex wedding would violate her religious freedom and also her First Amendment rights, calling her floral arrangements artist expression. The court rejected both arguments, "emphatically," Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud wrote in her 59-page ruling. "We agree with Ingersoll and Freed that 'this case is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases were about access to sandwiches.'" The court cited a case from New Mexico where a photographer tried the artistic expression defense for not photographing a same-sex wedding, and lost. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take his case in 2014. The similar case of a baker from Colorado is pending before the court, however.

The Washington ruling is "a kind of case that hasn't come up before," University of Washington constitutional law professor Hugh Spitzer tells The New York Times, explaining that the legal principles are firmly settled for interracial marriage, business law, and creative expression. Fully extending those rights to same-sex couples is notable, he added, "but the principles are not new."