Jul 2 2021
Today’s action let stand Washington Supreme Court’s decision affirming rights of same-sex couples
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued the following statement today after the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of the state’s lawsuit against a Richland florist for violating Washington’s Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) by refusing to serve a same-sex couple seeking to buy wedding flowers in 2013:
“This is a historic victory for equality. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not only wrong — it’s unlawful. Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court puts an end to our case, and sends a message to the entire country that everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be treated equally under the law.”
On March 1, 2013, Robert Ingersoll spoke with Arlene’s Flowers proprietor Barronelle Stutzman about purchasing flowers for his upcoming wedding to Curt Freed. Stutzman refused, based on her personal objection to marriage equality.
Later that month, the Attorney General’s Office sent a letter to Stutzman asking her to comply with Washington law, which prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.
Had Stutzman agreed to no longer discriminate, the letter stated, the Attorney General’s Office would not have pursued an enforcement action, and Stutzman would not have paid any costs, fees or penalties.
Stutzman refused. On April 9, 2013, the Attorney General’s Office filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers and Stutzman for refusing to serve the couple.
Ingersoll and Freed filed their own lawsuit against the defendants on April 18, which the trial court consolidated with the state’s case on July 24.
On Feb. 18, 2015, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom granted the state’s motion for summary judgment, ruling the defendants had violated the Consumer Protection Act.
Judge Ekstrom awarded the state a $1,000 penalty under the Consumer Protection Act — and the $1 in costs and fees the state requested — on March 27, 2015. An appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court followed.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson presented oral arguments before the Supreme Court on November 15, 2016.
The Washington State Supreme Court agreed with Ferguson in its 2017 ruling on the case, writing at that time: “The State of Washington bars discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We therefore hold that the conduct for which Stutzman was cited and fined in this case — refusing her commercially marketed wedding floral services to [Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed] because theirs would be a same-sex wedding — constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the [Washington Law Against Discrimination].”
The defendants appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court.
On June 4, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in a separate case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. In a narrow decision, the court ruled in favor of a bakery in Colorado that refused to provide a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. In that case, the high court found that the civil rights commission’s handling of the case had “some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility” toward the religious beliefs of the business owner.
Following that ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a “grant, vacate, remand” order in this case. This means the court expressed no view about whether the ruling was correct, but sent the case back to the Washington Supreme Court for a second look in light of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, to determine whether that ruling impacts this case. This is a common procedural step when cases involving similar issues are before the court.
On June 6, 2019, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld its previous decision, finding no evidence of hostility in the handling of the case. The court again found that Arlene’s Flowers violated Washington’s Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) by refusing to serve a same-sex couple seeking to buy wedding flowers in 2013.
After the state Supreme Court affirmed its earlier decision, Arlene’s Flowers again petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.