State Supreme Court Rules Flower Shop Owner Discriminated Against Same-Sex Couple

Image courtesy of Jim Perry

Back in 2013, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a consumer protection lawsuit on behalf of a same-sex couple who claimed their longtime friend and florist refused to provide the flowers for their wedding because of their sexual orientation. Today, that case is being put to rest as the Washington state Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision that the florist’s actions violated state laws.

In a unanimous decision [PDF] on Thursday, the Washington state Supreme Court concluded that the flower shop owner’s conduct constituted sexual orientation discrimination in violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD).

Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud wrote in the decision that “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. As applied in this case, the WALD does not violate [the owner’s] right to free association under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

AG Ferguson applauded the Supreme Court’s decision Friday.

“I brought this case seeking a definitive, unequivocal decision from our state’s highest court that discrimination against our LGBTQ brothers and sisters is illegal,” AG Ferguson said in a statement Thursday. “That’s exactly what the court said today.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the florist, said in a statement following the decision that she will now ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the decision.

The years-long lawsuit began in March 2013 when a longtime customer of the florist shop inquired about purchasing flowers for his upcoming wedding to his now husband.

The owner refused, based on her personal objection to marriage equality and religion, allegedly telling the man that she couldn’t accept their business “because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.”

“When it came to doing his wedding, I said, ‘I could not do it because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.’ He thanked me and said he respected my opinion. We talked and gave each other a hug and he left,” the owner wrote on her Facebook page shortly after the interaction.

Later that month, AG Ferguson sent a letter to the owner asking her to reconsider and comply with Washington law, which prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

The woman refused to comply and the AG’s office filed a lawsuit. The couple eventually filed their own lawsuit, which was later consolidated with the State’s case.

In Feb. 2015, Benton County Superior Court ruled the shop had violated the Consumer Protection Act, awarding the state a $1,000 penalty under the Consumer Protection Act and the $1 in costs and fees the state requested.

The flower shop then appealed the case to the Supreme Court, where arguments were heard in Nov. 2016.

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