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A key victory reaffirming LGBT rights in flower shop discrimination case

The Washington Supreme Court today unanimously reaffirmed its February 2017 ruling that a Richland, WA, florist had violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) when she refused to sell flowers to a same-sex couple for their wedding. The U.S. Supreme Court last year vacated that 2017 ruling and ordered the case sent back to the Washington court for reconsideration in light of its narrow ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Human Rights Commission finding in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. Jennifer C. Pizer, Director of Law and Policy for Lambda Legal, issued the following statement:

“The Washington Supreme Court today again confirmed a simple principle: our precious freedoms of religion and speech do not give businesses a license to discriminate against LGBT people. As important, the Court also did a careful review and rejected the assertion that there was anti-religious bias in the state courts’ consideration of the lawsuit. The florist in this action – Arlene’s Flowers, Inc. v. Washington – had no plausible basis for claiming there was hostility to her religious beliefs among those deciding her case.

“Lawyers for Arlene’s Flowers’ owner, Baronelle Stutzman, had pressed a series of extreme arguments to justify Stutzman’s request for a license to discriminate against same-sex couples. The Washington Supreme Court today reaffirmed its thorough, forceful rejection of every one of these arguments.

“We are thrilled that the court has so clearly and emphatically rebuffed this florist’s attorneys’ attempts to justify discrimination and congratulate the ACLU and Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson on this important victory.”

From today’s ruling:

“Stutzman contends that there is no reason to enforce the WLAD when, as she puts it, "[N]o access problem exists." We emphatically reject this argument. We agree with Ingersoll and Freed that ‘[this case is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases in the 1960s were about access to sandwiches.’ As every other court to address the question has concluded, public accommodations laws do not simply guarantee access to goods or services. Instead, they serve a broader societal purpose: eradicating barriers to the equal treatment of all citizens in the commercial marketplace. Were we to carve out a patchwork of exceptions for ostensibly justified discrimination, that purpose would be fatally undermined.”

Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington began as a lawsuit filed by a gay couple – Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed – against Arlene’s Flowers after the owner, Baronelle Stutzman, refused to create floral arrangements for their wedding. The State of Washington followed with its own lawsuit against the business charging it with violating the Washington Consumer Protection Act. And, in a third lawsuit, Stutzman filed her own lawsuit against Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The cases were consolidated into Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington.

Lambda Legal submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the Washington Supreme Court in the original case, in 2017, along with co-counsel Dan Shih and Lindsey Godfrey Eccles of the Susman Godfrey LLP law firm. Disability Rights Washington, El Centro de la Raza, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, PFLAG Seattle, Pride Foundation, QLaw Association of Washington, South Asian Bar Association of Washington and Washington Women Lawyers joined the brief.

Read the Court’s decision HERE

Read Lambda Legal’s friend-of-the-court brief HERE