- (Photo: Alliance Defending Freedom)
Attorneys for a Christian florist in Washington who refused to create floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding ceremony have asked a court to dismiss the state attorney general's lawsuit against her.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the suit against Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, in April. But Stutzman's attorneys, including those from Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a motion in Benton County Superior Court last week arguing that Ferguson does not have the authority to act against her at this point.
The legal action by Ferguson was particularly inappropriate, an ADF press release states, because he received no complaint about the incident but rather learned about it through media reports.
The motion claims the suit was filed "based on an unprecedented interpretation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination…and the Consumer Protection Act." It also says the suit should be dismissed "for lack of primary jurisdiction, failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by law, and lack of standing."
The florist's attorneys also submitted a motion asking the court to stop both the state and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the organization representing the gay couple, from attacking Stutzman personally in their lawsuits. Corporate officers are protected from personal liability, ADF attorneys say, unless they knowingly commit theft, misrepresentation or fraud.
"In America, the government is supposed to protect freedom, not use intolerance for certain viewpoints to intimidate citizens into acting contrary to their faith," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Dale Schowengerdt in a statement. "The attorney general has acted inappropriately by trying to intimidate Barronelle through his lawsuit rather than leaving the process where the law says such matters need to take place."
He added, "Plenty of other florists are willing to provide flowers for same-sex ceremonies, yet both lawsuits against Barronelle insist on going after not only her business, but going after her personally as well. That's extraordinary, and we're asking the court to put a stop to it."
According to court documents, Robert Ingersoll asked Stutzman in March to provide floral arrangements for his wedding to Curt Freed, but Stutzman told him she could not do so "because of [her] relationship with Jesus Christ." She also recommended other florists to Ingersoll, and she and Ingersoll hugged each other before he left her store.
Stutzman has said she believes marriage should be between a man and a woman.
Arlene's Flowers has both employed and sold flowers to gay individuals, including Ingersoll and Freed, who court documents state were patrons of the business for nearly nine years. Still, Stutzman has been accused of unlawful discrimination.
"As Attorney General, it is my job to enforce the laws of the state of Washington," said Ferguson in a statement earlier this year. "Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation. If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same-sex couples the same product or service."
On Friday a coalition of 15 states, including Washington, filed a "friend of the court" brief before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that laws prohibiting same-sex marriage in Hawaii and Nevada are unconstitutional. Ferguson said in a press release that his state, where same-sex marriage became legal in 2012, has "a clear interest in ensuring all states respect marriages that are valid under Washington law."