State organizations get involved in Richland flower shop debate

<p>Arlene's Flowers</p>

Arlene's Flowers

We continue to follow the controversy surrounding a Richland flower shop owner who refused to provide wedding flowers for a same-sex wedding last month.

The issue has now expanded well beyond just the shop owner and the customers.

Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington say the couple who was refused service has been deeply hurt, and the ACLU may file a lawsuit against the flower shop's owner on their behalf.

But representatives from the Family Policy Institute of Washington are stepping up to defend the shop's owner.

Last month, Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, refused to provide wedding flowers to a same-sex couple because of her religious beliefs.

Earlier this week, the Washington state Attorney General filed a consumer protection lawsuit against her and the shop.

A spokesperson from the Family Policy Institute says the first amendment protects Stutzman's religious freedom to not participate in something against her morals.

But a spokesperson from the ACLU says religious freedom does not trump state discrimination laws.

"We're very strong supporters of state anti-discrimination laws, and a business that is open to the general public can't treat people unequally, and we think this is a clear violation of Washington law against discrimination" said Doug Honig, ACLU of Washington.

"This is basic free enterprise, freedom of conscience - I will lend my services to the things I want to and things I don't want to - and that is a fundamentally American idea, and I'm certain that the majority of Washington state is on our side on this issue" said Joseph Backholm, Family Policy Institute of Washington.

Backholm tells us discrimination laws don't apply in this case because Stutzman doesn't refuse services to gay customers.

In fact, she had provided services for the same-sex couple at the center of this debate many times before - but she did not feel comfortable getting involved with their actual wedding.

The ACLU sent a letter to Stutzman, asking her to not refuse her services to same-sex couples, write a letter of apology in the Tri-City Herald, and donate $5,000 to the Vista Youth Center.

The letter asks for a response no later than April 17th.

Washington's Attorney General Bob Ferguson says the state's discrimination laws are very clear.

He believes when this is all over, the state will be found to be in the right.