Flower shop controversy heats up across state

<p>Arlene's Flowers</p>

Arlene's Flowers

The attorney representing the owner of a Richland flower shop says the state cannot force the shop owner to sell wedding flowers to same-sex couples, after the state files a lawsuit against the shop owner for refusing her services last month.

Barronelle Stutzman's attorney says she is entitled to religious freedom, and she cannot be forced to do something against her morals.

Late last month, the Attorney General's Office sent a letter to Stutzman, requesting she reconsider her position.

But on Monday, her attorney responded, saying Stutzman would challenge any state action to enforce the law.

It's been more than a month since the owner of a small Richland flower shop refused to provide wedding flowers for a same-sex couple based on her religious beliefs.

But the controversy surrounding that decision is now heating up across the state.

"In my opinion, I think that what she's doing is not ok" said Ashley Belgard, Plymouth, Washington resident.

Yesterday, Washington's Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene's Flowers.

Ferguson says it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation.

"You can't argue that religious expression is gonna trump the rights against discrimination that we have in the state. So, in the same way that you can't not serve someone who is Catholic because your religious views are in contrast to that, it's the same thing here. At the end of the day, you simply can't discriminate when you have a business and serve the public in that business" said Ferguson.

Social media users have been sounding off on the lawsuit during the past 24 hours.

Arlene's Flowers Facebook page is full of comments of support.

But comments on Your Local ABC's Facebook page are a little more varied.

Merry Csm writes "as a business owner they have the right to serve whom ever they want.. why should they go against what they believe.. regardless of what anyone thinks or wants."

Brenda Evans Hines states, "I stand behind her decisions. Rather than throw a big stink because things didn't go your way, find another shop."

But other users who disagree with Stutzman's decision are also speaking up.

Melissa Rowan states "if this florist didn't do any weddings period, this would be a non-issue. Since she does weddings, she can not say that she won't do a certain type of wedding."

And Shelly El Massmoudi writes, "she isnt following Washington State Laws".

Stutzman's attorney, Justin Bristol, says under the state constitution, she is entitled to her religious views.

"The state cannot compel Arlene's Flowers to take a course of conduct that would violate the conscience of the people doing the act" said Bristol.

So the debate continues - but no matter who is right or wrong, some worry that as the issue heats up, the business could suffer.

"I feel like she's creating unnecessary drama for her business. She's probably gonna lose a lot of customers" said Belgard.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson tells us hearings will start in Benton County, but the case may move up to the Washington State Supreme Court.

He says the laws are very clear and when this is all over, he is confident the courts will find that the state is right.

The complaint filed against Arlene's Flowers seeks a permanent injunction requiring the shop to comply with the state's consumer protection laws.

The state is also seeking $2,000 in fines for every violation of the law.