Judge to florist who refused same-sex wedding: You broke the law

A Washington state judge has ruled in favor of a same-sex couple whose longtime florist, citing her Christian beliefs, refused to provide flowers for their wedding. A step towards progress, or just another skirmish in the so-called wedding-cake war?

Eric Gay/AP Photo
Suzanne Bryant, left, and Sarah Goodfriend, right, pose with their marriage license following a news conference, Thursday, Feb. 19, in Austin, Texas. Advocates of gay rights and same-sex marriage continue to get rulings in their favor across the US.

It seems gay rights advocates have scored a victory this time.

A judge in Washington state has ruled that a florist broke a state anti-discrimination law when she refused to provide flowers for a gay couple’s wedding, Reuters reported.

Couple Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed sued Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., in 2013, after she refused to provide decorations for their wedding.

“[I] told him that because of my relationship with Jesus Christ I couldn’t do that,” Ms. Stutzman said, according to court documents.

On Wednesday, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander Ekstrom ruled in favor of Mr. Ingersoll and Mr. Freed.

“In trade and commerce, and particularly when seeking to prevent discrimination in public accommodations, the Courts have confirmed the power of the Legislative branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is religious belief,” Judge Ekstrom wrote in a 60-page opinion.

The decision is the latest scene in the drama of America’s gay rights debate. Over the last few months, anti-discriminatory suits have surfaced over everything from cakes to driver’s licenses.

On Thursday, a clerk in Texas issued a marriage license to a same-sex couple for the first time in the state’s history, marking a big victory for advocates that state, The Washington Post reported.

Yet those who oppose gay rights have hardly backed down. In a powerful statement earlier this month, county probate judges in Alabama defied a federal court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the state.

“Less than a quarter of the county probate judges were reported to be complying with the federal judge’s ruling, while the rest declined to issue licenses or kept their offices closed,” The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time. 

One federal judge in Alabama has since ordered a probate judge in Mobile to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, but it’s yet unclear how broadly the order will apply throughout the state.

At the same time, the US public seems to lean in favor of gay rights advocates. A 2014 Gallup poll found that more than half of Americans say same-sex marriage should be recognized by law – a great leap from 1996, when only 27 percent said gay marriages were valid.

As the debate goes back and forth between advocates and opponents, one suggestion for compromise has appeared from an unlikely corner.

In late January, Mormon leaders tried to find the middle ground between gay rights and religious freedom, “demanding that both ideas, together, be treated as a national priority,” The New York Times reported.

In a move that a gay Utah state legislator labeled "historic," leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints expressed support for laws that protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people from discrimination, such as being denied jobs or housing because of their sexual orientation.

In return, they called for legislation that would safeguard the rights of those who say their beliefs compel them to oppose homosexuality, citing instances where people against same-sex marriage have been sanctioned, sued, or fired from their jobs.

The announcement, which does not alter the Mormon church's opposition to gay marriage, drew praise for being well-intentioned, but has also drawn criticism from both sides, with some saying that such a compromise would fail to protect religious freedom, and others saying that it would still allow for discrimination against LGBT people. 

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