The State of Washington is suing a small flower shop after the owner declined to provide flowers for a homosexual wedding – based on her religious beliefs.
Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, Wash., is facing thousands of dollars in fines and penalties for allegedly violating the state's Consumer Protection Act.
"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," Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement.
On March 1, a longtime customer asked Stutzman to provide flowers for his upcoming same-sex wedding. According to court documents, she told him that she would not be able to do so "because of her relationship with Jesus Christ."
The Attorney General's office sent a letter to the florist on March 28 giving her a chance to reconsider her position and sign an agreement indicating her intention to comply with the law. But Stutzman refused.
"Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the basis of sexual orientation," the attorney general said.
In their letter to Stutzman, they told her the only way to avoid a lawsuit was to agree to provide services for homosexual weddings.
"This means that as a seller of goods or services, you will not refuse to sell floral arrangements for same-sex weddings if you sell floral arrangements for opposite-sex weddings," the attorney general's office wrote.
Attorney JD Bristol called the notion that his client was guilty of discrimination "nonsense."
"Arlene's Flowers has catered to all patrons, including homosexuals, for many years," Bristol wrote in his reply to the Attorney General. "Arlene's Flowers has had openly gay employees."
He told The Seattle Times that he believes the state is trying to make an example of the flower shop.
"This is about gay marriage, it's not about a person being gay," he told the newspaper. "She has a conscientious objection to homosexual marriage, not homosexuality. It violates her conscience."
Bristol said he believes this is a freedom of religion issue.
"What the government is saying here is that you don't have the right to free religious exercise," he told the newspaper.
Religious liberty groups in Washington and across the country are voicing their support for the flower shop.
"You may not be a florist, and you may have made a different decision, but liberty is at stake for all of us," said Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington. "Draw your line in the sand right here."
Backholm sent an email blast urging supporters to stand with Arlene's Flowers.
"Don't ignore the bully just because he hasn't punched you in the mouth yet," he said. "A small business owner is looking at years of litigation and huge legal expenses because she won't bow to the political elites."
Peter Sprigg, with the Family Research Council, told Fox News they are seeing more and more of these types of cases.
"People need to be aware this is the underlying motive for the push for same sex marriage," he said. "It's not just about legal rights and benefits. It's about forcing everyone in society to recognize their relationships as being one hundred percent equal to opposite sex marriages."
He called the lawsuit a dangerous step towards encroaching on religious liberty.
"It also reflects a narrow view of religious liberty where people may have freedom to exercise religious liberty in their church but they don't have that right when they go outside those four walls," he said.
The Attorney General is seeking a permanent injunction forcing the flower shop to comply with the law – as well as $2,000 in fines for every violation.