Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Tuesday a lawsuit against an eastern Washington florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex marriage ceremony. Some conservative and libertarian supporters of same-sex marriage say it's a bad move.
According to a press release from Ferguson's office, Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene's Flowers, violated the state's Consumer Protection Act in March when she informed a longtime client she would not provide flowers for his ceremony.
"As Attorney General, it is my job to enforce the laws of the state of Washington," Ferguson said in a released statement. "Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation. If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service."
Ferguson is seeking a permanent injunction requiring the shop to serve customers without regard to sexual orientation and a $2,000 fine for each violation of the law, according to the release.
Michael Pickens, executive director of the Libertarian Party of Washington State, told U.S. News that he supports legalizing same-sex marriage, but opposes Ferguson's lawsuit.
"As a private business the florist should be able to chose who they sell their services to," said Pickens, who described his gay uncles as "two of the most awesome people I know."
The state government "shouldn't be forcing businesses to sell products to someone," Pickens said.
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, a national organization representing gay conservatives, told U.S. News that market forces, rather than governments, are more suitable to punish discrimination.
"I think that it's bad business and bad public relations to discriminate for any reason, but the market should able to determine the consequences of the florist's discrimination," said LaSalvia.
"I don't think that this action by the attorney general helps advocates to make the case for civil marriage for gay couples in other states," LaSalvia added. "But, I want to be clear, this would not be an issue in the 19 states that don't have anti-discrimination laws should they legalize civil marriage for gay couples."
Stutzman declined to comment when reached Wednesday by U.S. News. Her attorney, Justin Bristol, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a Monday letter published by The Stranger, Bristol wrote that a lawsuit would be responded to with "an immediate challenge in federal court" and warned, "I have personally conferred with a number of national nonprofit organizations that are ready for a fight."
In a March 4 post by Arlene's Flowers on Facebook, the store owner wrote that she informed the customer that "I could not [provide the flowers] because of my relationship with Jesus." She added: "I have hired all walks of people in different circumstances, and had the privilege of working with some very talented people that happen to be gay. I'm sure there are many places you can purchase flowers, if you choose not to purchase them from Arlene's, because of your beliefs, then I certainly understand."
Calls to Ferguson's communications director about the lawsuit were answered by voicemail.
In a Wednesday press release Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, wrote, "We will be helping to assemble Washington citizens to support this small business and communicate to our elected officials that this harassment is not being done with the consent of the governed."
"Of course this lawsuit isn't due exclusively to the redefinition of marriage," Backholm conceded. "The non-discrimination statute that this suit has been brought under existed previously. It was bad then, it is bad now. The difference, however, is this. Now that the law says marriage is genderless, those who think otherwise are much more likely to be confronted with the Hobbesian choice to conform or be punished."