Richland florist countersues in same-sex wedding case

SEATTLE — A tempest in a flowerpot over whether a Washington state florist should have to provide bouquets to a same-sex wedding has taken a new turn with a countersuit filed by the shop owner claiming her religious freedoms gave her the right to refuse.

In an action filed late last week, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers fought back against lawsuits filed by the Washington attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union, saying she for years had served the gay man at the center of the legal maelstrom but didn’t have to provide flowers for his wedding.

The owner, Barronelle Stutzman, 68, routinely designs floral arrangements for gay and lesbian clients and has hired openly gay employees, but draws the line at providing flowers for same-sex weddings because of her religious convictions, said the suit filed on her behalf by a group that opposes same-sex marriage, Alliance Defending Freedom.

Because of her Christian faith, it says, “she cannot as a matter of conscience participate in or facilitate a same-sex wedding,” and trying to force her to do so violates the state constitution’s protections for “freedom of conscience” in religious expression.

The suit also claims a violation of the First Amendment protections for freedom of speech and association.

“Everyone knows that plenty of florists are willing to assist in same-sex ceremonies, so the state has no reason to force Barronelle to violate her deeply held beliefs,” said senior legal counsel Dale Schowengerdt of the alliance.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson in April filed a consumer protection lawsuit against the Richland-based florist shop, seeking fines for failing to provide the same kind of service to a same-sex couple, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, that it provides to everyone else.

“As an individual, she is free to hold religious beliefs, but as a business owner, she may not violate our state’s laws against discrimination,” Ferguson said in response to the countersuit.