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.