A Benton County Superior Court judge ruled on February 18, that a florist in Richland, WA violated the state’s anti-discrimination law when she denied service to a gay couple for their wedding. The ruling came in a lawsuit (Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers) filed by the ACLU on behalf of Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll. The court agreed with the suit’s contention 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.
Curt Freed, a faculty member at Columbia Basin College, and Robert Ingersoll, a manager at Goodwill, have been a couple for almost nine years. They are engaged and are planning a wedding for September 2013. Having purchased goods from Arlene’s Flowers on many occasions, Ingersoll approached the florist on March 1 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 Washington Law Against Discrimination 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. The courts have found that businesses open to the general public may not violate anti-discrimination laws, even on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs.
Filed in Benton County Superior Court, the lawsuit is seeking a court order barring the florist from discriminating against customers on the basis of sexual orientation and damages for the violation of the couple’s rights.
Status: After a victory in the lower court, Arlene's Flowers apealed directly to the Washington Supreme Court. The case is now pending before the Washington Supreme Court.