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Originally published Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 8:59 PM

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State sues florist over refusing service for gay wedding

The state attorney general has filed suit against a florist in Eastern Washington, claiming her refusal to provide floral arrangements for a gay couple’s wedding amounted to discrimination.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The state attorney general has filed a lawsuit in Benton County Superior Court against a Richland florist who refused to provide flowers for the wedding of longtime gay customers, citing her religious opposition to same-sex marriage.

The state’s suit against Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts, came just days after the Attorney General’s Office wrote to ask that Stutzman reconsider her position and agree to comply with the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

“Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “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.”

JD Bristol, attorney for Arlene’s, said his client has many customers and employees who are gay and the claim that she is “discriminating on the basis on sexual orientation is nonsense.”

“This is about gay marriage, it’s not about a person being gay,” Bristol said. “She has a conscientious objection to homosexual marriage, not homosexuality. It violates her conscience.”

The suit stems from a March 1 incident in which Robert Ingersoll went to Arlene’s to purchase flowers for his upcoming wedding. Stutzman refused him service, citing her “relationship with Jesus Christ.”

In its suit, the Attorney General’s Office said the florist discriminated against Ingersoll based on his sexual orientation in violation of Washington’s anti-discrimination laws and its Consumer Protection Act. The state is seeking $2,000 in penalties and a permanent injunction requiring the florist to comply with state laws.

Bristol believes the state is attempting to make an example of his client and said she intends to stand by her convictions.

Making floral arrangements for a wedding is a creative process, not as simple as handing a couple some flowers, he said. “It takes artistic talent to do that. All artists consider what they do to be an expression.

“I one hundred percent believe this is a freedom-of-expression and free-exercise-of-religion issue,” he said. “What the government is saying here is that you don’t have the right to free religious exercise.”

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @turnbullL.

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