Tri-Cities florist who turned down same-sex marriage settles down with couple

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A Washington state florist who was in an eight-year legal battle that reached the United States Supreme Court will retire after settling in with the same-sex couple whose marriage she refused.

Barronelle Stutzman of Richland, Wash., Announced the settlement Thursday, saying she paid Robert Ingersoll $ 5,000, the Tri-City Herald reported.

She also wished Ingersoll, who was her client at Arlene’s Flowers for nearly a decade, “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 Southern Baptist religious beliefs, according to a press release from her Alliance Defending Freedom lawyers. They reached an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union.

It also saves Stutzman from having “to pay potentially ruinous legal fees,” the statement said.

“I’m ready to turn the legal struggle for freedom over to others. At 77, it’s time to retire and hand my business over to someone else,” Stutzman said.

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 in a statement Thursday. “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.”

The ACLU 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.

In 2015, a Benton County Superior Court judge ruled 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 of 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.

Both cases, on appeal by Stutzman, went to the state Supreme Court and then 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 for a new review. The Washington Supreme Court unanimously ruled in 2019 that state courts did not act with animosity towards religion when they ruled that Stutzman violated state anti-discrimination laws by refusing for religious reasons to provide wedding flowers.

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 Supreme Court refused in July to take up the case. Stutzman has responded with a petition for a rehearing, but she will withdraw it as part of her settlement.

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