Arlene's Flowers Controversy Continues

<p>Baronnelle Stutzman</p>

Baronnelle Stutzman

Attorneys representing a Richland florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding file a countersuit against the state attorney general - who originally filed a consumer protection lawsuit against the shop owner last month.

Attorneys with the religious freedom group Alliance Defending Freedom say the lawsuit from Attorney General Bob Ferguson is attempting to force the flower shop's owner to act contrary to her religious convictions, which is a violation of her constitutional freedoms.

The owner of Arlene's Flowers, 68 year-old Barronelle Stutzman, refused to provide flowers for a same sex wedding in March due to her religious beliefs.

Last month, Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Stutzman, saying it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation.

He said religious expression does not trump the rights against discrimination.

But attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom say Stutzman routinely serves gay customers, and has hired openly gay employees.

The countersuit explains the problem for Stutzman was promoting the same-sex ceremony, not serving customers who are gay.

They say the state has no reason to force Stutzman to violate her deeply held beliefs.

"In America, the government is supposed to protect freedom, not use its intolerance for certain viewpoints to intimidate citizens into acting contrary to their faith. Family business owners are constitutionally guaranteed the freedom to live and work according to their beliefs. It is this very freedom that gives America its cherished diversity and protects citizens from state-mandated conformity" said Dale Schowengerdt, attorney.

Schowengerdt says the Washington State Constitution protects the rights of conscience and religion.

He also says before Stutzman denied wedding flowers for the same-sex couple, she had created other floral arrangements for one of the men for nearly nine years, and she knew he was gay for most of their relationship.

The countersuit asks for the state to dismiss the original complaint, and to declare that it is unlawful for the attorney general to compel people like Stutzman to participate in, or facilitate same-sex weddings.

Bob Ferguson released a statement this afternoon, stating "It's the Attorney General's job to enforce consumer protection laws which prohibit discrimination in the marketplace. If Ms. Stutzman sells wedding flowers to heterosexual couples, she must sell them to same-sex couples. As an individual, she is free to hold religious beliefs but as a business owner, she may not violate our state's laws against discrimination--no matter what she personally believes."

The Washington chapter of the ACLU has also filed a lawsuit against Arlene's Flowers and Stutzman on behalf of the gay couple.