Tri-Cities florist retires and settles down with same-sex couple

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A Richland florist mired in an 8-year legal battle that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court will retire after settling with the same-sex couple whose marriage was at the center of the lawsuit.

Barronelle Stutzman announced the settlement on Thursday, saying she paid Robert Ingersoll $ 5,000.

She also wished Ingersoll, who had been her client for almost 10 years, “the best”.

Ingersoll and her husband, Curt Freed, plan to make the settlement payment to a local PFLAG chapter and personally donate the $ 5,000.

The deal allows Stutzman to “preserve her conscience” by not forcing her to act against her religious beliefs as a Southern Baptist, according to a press release from her Alliance Defending Freedom lawyers.

It also saves the longtime owner of Arlene’s Flowers on Lee Boulevard from having “to pay potentially ruinous legal fees – a threat she has suffered for years,” the statement said.

Alliance Defending Freedom and lead counsel in Stutzman’s case, Kristen Wagoner, reached a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I am ready to hand over the legal struggle for freedom to others. At 77, it’s time to retire and hand my business over to someone else, ”Stutzman wrote in his letter announcing the end of his legal career. “I never had to compromise my conscience or go against my faith.”

“I am grateful that the love of God has supported me through all the trials and challenges of the past few years,” she added.

“There are many divisions at work in our country today, but God has shown me time and time again that his love is stronger than the anger and pain that so many people feel. And he’s given me countless opportunities to share his love with others along the way.

Stutzman, a great-grandmother, says she will be retiring “so her beloved employees can run her business.”

Arlène's flowers
Arlene’s Flowers on Lee Boulevard in Richland. Tri-City Herald File

The settlement leaves in place two unanimous decisions of the Washington State Supreme Court that the Constitution does not grant a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people, the ACLU in Washington said.

“We took on this matter because we were concerned that the harm might be done to LGBTQ people,” Freed and Ingersoll said Thursday in a statement released by the ACLU. “We are pleased that the decisions of the Washington Supreme Court remain in effect to ensure that same-sex couples are protected from discrimination and should be served by businesses like anyone else.”

“We are also delighted to support the work of our local PFLAG to support LGBTQ people in the Tri-Cities region,” continued Freed and Ingersoll. “It was painful to be turned away and we are grateful that this long journey for us is finally over.”

PFLAG is a national organization bringing together parents, families and allies with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.

The ACLU initially filed a discrimination lawsuit against Stutzman in 2013 on behalf of Ingersoll and Freed.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson separately sued, saying the floral artist violated state consumer protection law by refusing to provide services based on sexual orientation.

A Benton County Superior Court judge ruled in 2015 that Stutzman should pay $ 1 in attorney fees and costs to the state, as well as a civil fine of $ 1,000, for discriminating against the couple. This judgment still stands.

“We are delighted to hear that Arlene’s Flowers and Barronelle Stutzman have reached a settlement agreement with the couple they have refused to serve,” Ferguson said in an email to the Tri-City Herald.

“The Crown is not a party to the settlement, and Arlene’s Flowers has already paid the $ 1,001 she owed the Crown. But we welcome this resolution, which preserves two unanimous victories in the state’s Supreme Court and ensures that LGBTQ + Washingtonians are free from the outrage and prejudice of being turned away on the basis of who they love.

The two cases progressed together on Stutzman’s appeals to the state Supreme Court and, ultimately, to the United States Supreme Court.

The nation’s highest court overturned Washington state’s previous ruling and returned it to the lower court in 2018.

In 2019, the Washington Supreme Court again issued a unanimous opinion that Stutzman broke state laws when she claimed freedom of religion by denying her client’s request to make arrangements for her marriage.

Barronelle Stutzman
Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, stands in her store in this file photo. Tri-City Herald File

Stutzman and Alliance Defending Freedom – in their second attempt to bring the case to the United States Supreme Court – filed a petition for review in September 2019.

The court ended its last term on July 2, with just three justices saying they would agree to review the Washington state decision.

Stutzman has responded with a petition for a rehearing, but will withdraw it as part of his settlement.

“This settlement is the end of a long legal case, not a change or abandonment of Barronelle’s beliefs,” Wagoner, general counsel, said in the press release.

“For the past eight years, Barronelle has stood up for the First Amendment freedoms of all Americans, even those who disagree with her on a deeply personal and important issue like marriage. And in doing so, she has inspired millions more in their own public and personal battles to live out their faith without government interference.

Wagoner said Stutzman’s case laid the groundwork for other creative professionals who took their cases to the United States Supreme Court, including Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop and Lorie Smith and his studio, 303 Creative, all two from Colorado.

“The Supreme Court must affirm the right of all Americans to speak and live according to their conscience,” Wagoner said.

This story was originally published November 18, 2021 at 12:13 pm.

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Kristin M. Kraemer covers the justice system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She was a journalist for over 20 years in Washington and California.

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