Hearing To Be Held in Suit for Gay Couple Refused Service by Florist
Oral argument will be held on Friday, December 19 at 1:30 pm in Benton/Franklin County Superior Court in Kennewick on a lawsuit filed by a gay couple who were denied service by a florist because of their sexual orientation. The suit (Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers) says that the refusal of Arlene’s Flowers to sell flowers to the couple violates the longstanding Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Consumer Protection Act. The ACLU is representing the couple in the suit.
Curt Freed, and Robert Ingersoll have been a couple since 2004. In December 2012, soon after the State of Washington began recognizing the freedom to marry for gay couples, Curt proposed marriage to Robert, and the two became engaged. They were planning for a wedding to be held on their anniversary in September 2013. Having purchased goods from Arlene’s Flowers on many occasions, Robert on behalf of the couple approached the florist on March 1, 2013 to arrange for flowers for the event. However, he was told that the business would not sell the couple flowers because of the owner’s religious beliefs.
The couple was shocked and hurt by the florist’s refusal. Fearing further discrimination, they stopped planning for a big wedding and ultimately decided to have a small wedding at their home.
“Religious freedom is a fundamental part of America. But religious beliefs do not give any of us a right to ignore the law or to harm others because of who they are. When gay people go to a business, they should be treated like anyone else and not be discriminated against,” said Sarah Dunne, ACLU of Washington Legal Director. “Selling flowers doesn’t mean a business is endorsing anyone’s wedding or agreeing with the customer, it just means they are providing commercial services to the public.”
The Washington Law Against Discrimination (RCW 49.60) prohibits discrimination because of sexual orientation. It bars businesses from refusing to sell goods, merchandise, and services to any person because of their sexual orientation.
Friday’s hearing will consider motions for summary judgment. A trial in the case currently is scheduled for March 23, 2015.
Representing Ingersoll and Freed for the ACLU are cooperating attorneys Michael Scott, Amit Ranade, and Jake Ewart of Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson P.S., ACLU of WA staff attorneys Sarah Dunne and Margaret Chen, and ACLU LGBT Rights Project attorney Elizabeth Gill.
Statement by Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll:
“We were hurt and saddened when we were denied service by Arlene’s Flowers after doing business with them for so many years. We respect everyone’s beliefs, but businesses that are open to the public have an obligation to serve everyone. We appreciate the support from people across the globe, and look forward to having this issue resolved.”