A judge in the US has ruled that a Christian florist broke state laws by declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.
Judge Alexander C Ekstrom said that 70-year-old Baronelle Stutzman violated Washington State’s anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws, after she was sued by the state and the gay couple involved.
In March 2013 – three months after marriage was redefined in Washington – Stutzman told long-standing customer Robert Ingersoll that she could not arrange flowers for his wedding because of her relationship with Jesus Christ.
Freedom of expression
The court heard that Stutzman would have provided the raw materials, but felt that arranging the flowers for a same-sex wedding involved freedom of expression, and went against her Christian beliefs about marriage.
Ingersoll wrote about the incident on Facebook, which led to Stutzman receiving hate mail and a threat to burn down her business, Arlene’s Flowers.
Ingersoll and his partner Curt Freed were offered free flowers for their wedding from other florists.
Lose her home
Washington State’s Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, filed a lawsuit under consumer protection laws, before the gay couple launched their own legal action.
A previous court ruling in January means Stutzman could lose her home and savings, as a judge said the state and the couple may collect damages and lawyers’ fees from Stutzman’s business and her personally.
Religious liberty organisation Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is representing Stutzman, and plans to appeal the decision.
Violate religious beliefs
ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner said: “The message of these rulings is unmistakable: the government will bring about your personal and professional ruin if you don’t help celebrate same-sex marriage”.
“Laws that are supposed to prohibit discrimination might sound good, but the government has begun to use these laws to hurt people – to force them to conform and to silence and punish them if they don’t violate their religious beliefs on marriage”, she added.
Stutzman commented: “America would be a better place if citizens respected each others’ differences and the government still protected the freedom to have those differences”.
“I just want the freedom to live and work faithfully and according to what God says about marriage without fear of punishment. Others have the freedom to say or not say what they want to about marriage, and that’s all I’m asking for as well”, she said.
In Northern Ireland, DUP MLA Paul Givan is hoping to introduce a ‘conscience clause’, in the wake of legal action against a Christian-run bakery that refused to decorate a pro-gay marriage campaign cake.
He has launched a consultation on his Private Member’s Bill, which would give reasonable accommodation to people who have strongly-held religious beliefs.
The consultation closes on Friday 27 February 2015.